Subhashini Mistry lives in a village by the name Hanspukur just about 20 Km south of the city center of Kolkata, West Bengal.
She was born in a poor family of farmers in West Bengal and was married at an early age of 12. At the age of 23, her husband died of gastroenteritis and due to lack of good treatment for the illness at a government hospital. He was a poor labourer. After the loss, she was left all alone with her kids. She decided that she would not let anyone else face the kind of difficulties her husband had to face due to the mere lack of healthcare facilities.
After her husband’s death, she had to take care of her four children and herself. Over the next twenty years, she worked as a housemaid, manual laborer and a vegetable seller. First she started working as a housemaid but soon she discovered she could pick vegetables that grew on the wayside in Dhapa village and sell them. She realized that selling vegetables would fetch more money than doing other people’s housework.
She said, “I used to earn about five paise. Two paise was for rent, two paisa was for eating and I used to save one paise.” Thus, she and her children moved to Dhapa village where she rented a hut for Rs.5 a month. She began selling vegetables in Dhapa village, and gradually, as her business grew, she headed for the bustling city of Kolkata. She set up her wayside stall on the bridge number four in Park Circus in central Kolkata. She started earning about Rs.500 a month and opened a savings account in the post office and deposited a little money whenever she could. Sometimes it was just Rs.50 while sometimes, Rs.200.
For 20 years, she scrimped and saved. She spent nothing on herself and very little on her children. She educated her son Ajoy Mistry by sending him to an orphanage at an early age so that he can get a decent education and helped succeed him to become a doctor with help of a few generous philanthropists.
She moved back to her husband’s village, Hanspukur, and bought land of one acre. She then explained the plan to the villagers and told them that she will donate her one acre land solely for the purpose of building the hospital only if they too are willing to donate some money. With all the support from the nearby villages, she was able to establish a trust called “Humanity Trust”.
Villagers donated some money and also helped with the bamboo, palm leaves and truckloads of wooden planks. People who were unable to donate financially, helped with their physical labor. And soon, a 20 by 20 feet temporary shed was constructed in 1993. To call and let know the other doctors, an auto rickshaw fitted with a loudspeaker was sent around a radius of 10 km pleading them to provide their free services also, residents were requested to donate their medicines which are not of their use anymore.
The first doctor to respond to the call was Dr. Raghupathy Chatterjee. Five others followed in rapid succession – a general physician, pediatrician, orthopedic, ophthalmologist and a homeopath. To make the walls and roof of the hospital concrete, Ajoy knocked on the door of the local Member of Parliament (MP), Malini Bhattacharya. Over a period of time, he won her over and after seeing with her own eyes the Subhashini’s single minded devotion to her charitable work, Malini supported the Humanity Hospital wholeheartedly. She helped them to raise sufficient funds and finally the foundation stone was laid in the year 1993. Also to mention, it’s a shame that not a single reporter attended or covered the event. Subhashini’s hardwork and dedication are the only reasons that made such an impossible task take shape into a reality for many.
This was a hospital for the poor and wasn’t meant to carve a business out of it, Subhashini’s take was always clear on this. So while the poor got free treatment, those who lived above the poverty line had to pay Rs.10 for consultation. Still, this amount was not sufficient to cover the day to day expenses of running the hospital. Her son Ajoy said, “There is a perpetual shortage of funds. We live from month to month”. Still the struggle continued to bring the situation to a stable point and that, many hardworking and honest people made this difficult venture possible.
How did she achieve all this? She says: “Inner Strength.” She adds with rustic wisdom: “God in his infinite grace gave me a vision at the darkest moment in my life. From then on, my life had a purpose. I used whatever strength God gave me to make sure other poor people did not lose their loved ones just because of the lack of medical attention.”
If she had kept all her savings to herself, Subhashini might have lived in a better house and had more possessions. But she says: “What’s the use of material things like bangles and saris? We can’t take them with us when we die. But the happy faces of the cured poor people have given me such joy and meaning in this life, which at last just becomes an entity which cannot be replaced!”
Her mission is not over yet, she says, “Only when this hospital becomes a full-fledged 24-hour hospital, will I become satisfied.” She is a true hero, a great inspiration and a wonderful personality. And we have to give her a big salute! There are many such people like Subhashini who are working at the grass root level to make the land fertile so that others who don’t have the means to, can flourish their lives on it.
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Image Source : United Nations India