He was unable to prepare the parathas (very popular flatbread; the word means layers of cooked dough) that he used to sell. This was three years ago. Following a cataract surgery for his right eye in March 2015, he is back at what he does best and a steady clientele that finish off his wares by 9.00 am daily is testimony to that.
Madhav had started a small shop five years ago on the main road close to the Dakshin Barasat railway station in South 24 Parganas. He first sold tea and snacks and then graduated to making and selling parathas. When he started having problems with his eye sight, he consulted a doctor. He was told that he had a cataract and the surgery would cost around Rs 20,000 – 22,000. “Where would I get that kind of money? I had felt that there was nothing left to do,” he shares. A neighbour – who is also a rural medical practitioner – took him to the nearby Vision Centre operationalised with support from Sightsavers. He was then referred to the hospital, also managed under the same initiative, where he underwent the surgery free of charge. He was not afraid of the procedure. He states, “I had already turned blind. What else could happen?”
He shares that the arrangements at the hospital were satisfactory. He says, “Some people think if it is free, it is not good. But it wasn’t like that at all. When I was leaving, I even asked them – can I refer other people here?” Madhav even suggested that an eye health camp be organised close to his shop. He helped with the arrangements for it as well. “I want to help people. There are so many who need this kind of support. If they go somewhere else, they will keep getting referred from one place to another and then another. They will also just end up spending a lot of money,” he states.
Madhav has grown to be one of the biggest and most consistent supporters of the project. He often sets out on the road, meeting people (particularly the elderly) in neighbouring communities and encouraging them to visit the Vision Centre if they have any eye related problem. In the last two years, Madhav has helped organise five eye health camps. He has referred more than 200 people to the Vision Centre. Seventy of them subsequently underwent cataract surgeries. “I am at the shop from 4 am to 1.30 pm. After that, I am free to do this,” he says.
His efforts have also made him quite popular in the area. “Sometimes, when I start talking about eye health and these services, people ask me about myself. When I tell them about my shop, they say – Oh! You are that paratha wala. We have heard about you,” he says as his face breaks into a big smile. “I am not an educated man. But here I am getting a chance to be a part of something big and something good and to meet so many new people. That is enough for me,” he says.