Service with a Difference for a Social Cause
Posted by Katie Nathan
People in the neighbourhood call him Kumar. He wanders about the roads, sleeps in street corners and lives on food offered by kind-hearted passers-by. On a hot Tuesday afternoon, as he lies by a gutter off Mettupalayam Road, something unusual happens. A group of men with combs and hair-styling shears arrives in a car. Before he realises it, they sit Kumar down and give him a haircut, his first in many years. He sits still as they crop his hair and trim his beard. The men dress him in a new shirt and offer him food and water. Kumar walks away, sack slung over his shoulder. He merges with the market crowd — this time, he fits in.
This is what N. Deivaraj and his team wish for — that the homeless and mentally-challenged get to live dignified lives. A hair-stylist based in Tirupur, Deivaraj runs the ‘New Deiva City Hair Arts Trust’ with his friends and relatives. The trust has been providing free hair cuts for the mentally-challenged, differently-abled and under-privileged for four years now. Deivaraj has been rendering this service since 2002.
Says Deivaraj: “When people see mentally-challenged persons on the streets, they try to keep as much distance from them as possible. Most of us are intimidated by their appearance. But they are like any of us; they just need a little help.”
Deivaraj and his 13-member team seek out such people, groom them and offer them a meal. Once in three months, they travel to places outside Tirupur. The team goes around in a rented vehicle from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., helping as many as they can. Once a week, they do free hair-cuts for children in orphanages in and around Tirupur. On August 15 every year, Deivaraj provides free hair-cuts to children from lesser-privileged backgrounds at his salon. “This year, we attended to about 1,485 children. They were also given free stationery,” he explains.
His team consists of like-minded people such as advocate Neelavendhan, businessman Ramesh Patel, and hairstylists Prabakaran and Praveen Kumar, Shanmugaraj and Selvaraj. “Together, we’ve been to places such as Dindigul, Trichy, Erode, Namakkal and Karur,” says Deivaraj.
“Every city has its share of unforgettable incidents,” says Ramesh. “In Trichy, we met a mentally-challenged man who always carried a notebook with him. ‘I’m going to college’, he would say and march on. We had a tough time convincing him to sit for a hair-cut. There was a man who just wouldn’t part with his gunny bag — it held all his worldly possessions. Another person shared a close bond with a dog. You can never approach the man without convincing the dog that you were not going to harm him!”
Ramesh says that a lot of mentally-challenged people in the streets of Tamil Nadu are from other states. “Uncared for, they are cast away by their families in far-off places so that they don’t figure their way back home,” he rues.
Over the years, Deivaraj has developed a knack for approaching the mentally-challenged without alarming them. “I observe them for a while. I then walk with them and gradually start a conversation.” He adds that many a time, his benefactors behave in a very civilised manner — “Some carefully collect their locks from the ground and properly dispose of them.”
Deivaraj and his team plan to extend their service to every city in the state. “We have the potential to do so much more,” he says. With proper funds and support, he hopes to establish a home for the mentally-challenged. “It’s distressing to see them roaming the streets. I wish I could take them home with me.”
Deivaraj can be contacted on 94423-72611.
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