Until just a few years ago auto driver Ganeshan S, who now lives in Chennai’s Shantivanam senior care home, was quite the man about town
Ever since he remembers, Ganeshan S, now 73, was working: as a deliverer of food as a child, as an ice shoveler and plumber when he was a teenager, and then as an auto driver.
If he could today, he says he would make enough money doing repairs, but, “my body isn’t cooperating with me right now. I am unable to lift my hand because of diabetes.”
Originally from Salem, Tamil Nadu, Ganeshan’s father was alcoholic, so he helped his mother and family of 7 make ends meet by selling food in the government hospital. “I would earn 1 anna (one-sixteenth of a rupee) for an idli, 2 annas for a meal packet,” he explains, thinking back to the days when gilli-danda was played on the road and cricket was still an elite sport.
At 13, he worked in a company that produced ice, filling it into boxes used in the mortuary. Initially, he was scared to go near the bodies that came in. Then he steeled himself: ‘It’s my job, fear shouldn’t be a factor.’
Ganeshan was 15 years old when he went on a plumbing job with a friend. Gradually he picked up the skill from him. He remembers someone offering him a large sum of money for a tough job that no one else could solve: a leak in the ceiling. He solved it and the sum took him a long way.
At 17, he began driving auto rickshaws, and soon acting as broker for the second-hand sale of the yellow-and-black three-wheelers. “I knew how to sell,” he says, adding that with the money he earned, “I applied for financing and bought an auto rickshaw for Rs 6,000.”
Ganeshan says he’s felt pain only once in life: “When my brother sold my auto rickshaw without my knowledge. I asked the buyer to resell it to me. I told him that the auto rickshaw was my life, and that if I didn’t have it, I’d die.” Like many auto drivers in Chennai, he too knew how to make a quick buck in the evening hours!
At Shantivanam senior care home in Chennai, he thinks of his son and daughter – his son a construction contractor, his daughter a seamstress. “There was no place for gender bias. I believe in talent in any gender,” he says, about the way he brought them up.
He talks about helping them both set up their businesses, of buying the workers tea and snacks. It’s the little things that make a difference, he feels. “Like Apollo supplying medicines to us.”
The only time his voice breaks is when he talks about how he used to bring people in his auto to senior care homes. “I never believed I’d also be in one.”
What he misses most though, is not family or friends, but just the ability to work.
The Billion Hearts Beating Foundation aims to touch a billion lives through healthcare, by serving society’s most neglected needs, with empathy, dignity, and respect