A person with limited means cannot think of spending 20 rupees every day for a bottle of water. So Nataranjan wakes up at 5 am every day, collects about 20 liters of water by 8 am and fills 80-100 matkas (a traditional Indian clay pot to store water) every day for 3-4 times so that no one is thirsty in his neighborhood.
Hailing from Panchsheel Park in Delhi, this cancer survivor and a businessman from London is filling matkas, like an everyday ritual for last 4 years and is popular in the capital city by the name of “Matka Man.”
While talking to Life Beyond Numbers, 69-year-old Alagarathanam Natarajan (fondly called as ‘Alag’ by his loved ones) says, “While delivering water, it feels like I am quenching the thirst of poverty.”
For 32 years, Natarajan lived in London and ran a joke and souvenir shop in Oxford Street. “I was 21-year-old when I left India but I have always wanted to come back to my country and do something for my people,” he said.
The best part is he is not alone in this and apart from his wife, his mother-in-law, who is, unfortunately, suffering from dementia has been providing him with unconditional financial support throughout.
What Inspired him?
Natarajan asks– “Why is that people belonging to the affluent colonies lack compassion and kindness? Why don’t we start by helping the domestic helpers and guards who work for us and are an essential part of the community?”
A few years back, Alag was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, but thankfully due to an early diagnosis, the doctors could save him after removing 3-inches of his colon. It was a new lease of life for Natarajan, who then decided to help others by getting involved in lots of social work, one of them was getting associated with a terminal cancer center.
“Even though I live in one of the affluent colonies of South Delhi, I still find security guards on duty 24/7 without their employer giving them access to water and the worst thing is that they have to sneak out during their duty hours to look for a glass of water,” he says.
What does he do?
“I get water from Step By Step school and 3 kind souls have come forward to support this initiative and the rest of it, I supply from my home. The matka stands have a sign with my personal telephone number, so people can notify me when a matka is empty, and a bench when there’s space,” he says.
He has also kept a water cooler outside his house so that people who do not have access to drinking water can come here to quench their thirst.
“The van that I have now was actually purchased for cremating dead bodies. Poor people cannot afford to bury or cremate their loved ones, so helping them in after death rituals can bring them some relief.”
Not just that. Natarajan has also placed 100 cycle pumps in his neighborhood to give poor people the flexibility to fill air 24/7. He distributes glow in the dark stickers for safety purposes and spare nozzles for their wheels as well as while distributing water in his van. He also distributes 40-50 kilos of seasonal fruits and vegetables (eg. cucumber, watermelon, white radish) per week to laborers and the poor. These exercises involve cutting, peeling and often adding spices to the items.
Forming an “Interconnected” Community
“Water is just a platform to help people but what I do is because we are a part of the community- plants, animals and human beings and we have to look after one another in order to flourish,” says Natarajan. The kindness in us makes us human and we should never lose it.
It is difficult when one person earns 900 crores a month and the rest struggle to make their ends meet. Drinking cool water on a summer day feels blissful and we should feel responsible and do something if we see a person cannot meet their basic needs.
“It is not about the helping the poor, the current scenario tells us that women are exploited- left, right and center. So, we should do something about that too. Also, is it really important to kill animals for our food? Don’t we have a healthy alternative?”
On asking about his source of inspiration, Natarajan says, “There is too much goodness around us, the problem is we fail to see it. I know a person from Sikh Community who serves food to the needy people free of cost and whenever television crew comes, he walks away. Their belief is if you feed someone once a day, then you won’t need food for the rest of the day. Three meals a day is not necessary and even though we have cultivated it over the years, but it is not necessary. Also, I have come across a doctor who selflessly runs a street clinic every day and treats poor people for free. To have this kind of humility is not easy, you need to believe in your cause.”
Apart from this Nataranjan is deeply inspired by a former president of Uruguay Jose “Pepe” Mujica who was elected in 2010 and chose to stay in his small farmhouse outside Montevideo rather than in the presidential palace. He brought down the country’s poverty rate from 40 to 12 percent. He also earned a reputation as a man of the people, as he gave away much of this salary to the poor. “I am able to identify with Mujica because he believes that when we have excess money, why not help others with that,” he adds.
How YOU can Help him:
“I wish to help those in need around me and also to inspire people to help those around them. Perhaps then, I can start a quiet revolution of human kindness,” he says. What Alag does is out of sheer love for his community and extending a helping hand will make his work easier. “It will be nice if someone can pick up the cost of my assistance which is 20,000 rs per month,” says Alag.
Natarajan is not backed by any NGO and he uses his life savings to help poor people. If you want to extend a helping hand:
Contact him at – firstname.lastname@example.org
Call him at – +919910411779 | +919910401101
An English author, Douglas Adams once said- “ To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” It’s time to abide by this, don’t you think?