In Chennai and across Tamil Nadu, Anandha Babu E and Saravana Kumar R are the team behind medicine distribution, the organizing of health camps and basic life support training
Anandha Babu recalls being besieged by a crowd in a senior care home in Madurai in 2014, the year the Billion Hearts Beating Foundation had just begun work. He was looking for a home that had just been added to the list of beneficiaries of free medicines, and the people around thought his intentions weren’t quite right! “I had to jump over a wall to escape,” he says, adding he was much younger then, and wondering aloud if he could do that today. In those days, he was the sole coordinator, until Saravana Kumar joined in 2021.
Saravana too has a story to tell: When the two went to Kundrathur, in the Kanchipuram district, to check a senior care home’s documentation, the founder questioned them for a while, though they’d showed him their IDs. “”You can imagine the difficulties that Anandha encountered in the beginning,” Saravana says.
The two oversee 64 senior care homes, coordinating medicine distribution and organizing health camps, as a part of their work in Billion Hearts Beating in Tamil Nadu. It is the state that serves the highest number of homes in the country.
“It has taken 7 years to build BHB (Billion Hearts Beating),” Anandha explains, adding that Chennai was where it all began, with what was then called project Apollo Aushad (now Project Aushad), with Mythili Sriram, on the Board of Trustees, then spearheading activity.
Anandha and Saravana’s daily work requires a great deal of coordination. Each person in every single senior care home has a patient ID and a prescription. Every month, these lists are tallied with the medicines in the store. It’s a precise process that takes time and sometimes tests their patience.
“Anandha makes decisions slowly and steadily,” Saravana explains. He has a system in place and even if he is annoyed, he keeps his temper in check. “Saravana is bold and expresses himself fully,” Anandha says, laughing.
They’ve known each other since college, where they both studied social work, and Anandha remembers Saravana’s interest in activities like street plays and stage anchoring. Working together at the Billion Hearts Beating office though, was just by chance. It was both an unexpected and joyful moment when Anandha was waiting to brief his new colleague, and in walked Saravana. They chatted, rekindled their bond, and Anandha showed him the ropes.
Their friendship is defined by communication, trust, and confidence. “When it comes to work, I’ll talk to him about everything openly and honestly. Also, if someone attempts to drive a wedge between us, I simply won’t pay heed,” Saravana says, emphatically.
Food is another point that brings them together. “Any problem, quarrel, or disagreement, we let it be and go for lunch first. Food relaxes the mind and improves our performance,” says Saravana. They make sure to always lunch together.
The two agree fundamentally on the basics: on teamwork and their vision for Billion Hearts Beating to be in as many senior care homes across Tamil Nadu as possible. Saravana also wants people to know about why these care homes exists – because society often abandons seniors when they feel they have nothing to offer. “We need more media talking about the realities of the situation.”
What keeps them going, often through raging heat and flood waters, is their yearly internal review meeting that offers a chance to talk about their challenges and triumphs. Mostly though, it is phone calls from the homes blessing them and wishing their families well that gives them daily fuel to continue.
Plus, “It is the work itself,” Anandha says, as Saravana continues his thought: “Many elderly people beg on the road, and some die because they have no access to medicines.” The senior care homes, they feel, are a conduit for them to serve the elderly, and that is something worth getting up for, every single day.