Turning Tragedy into Hope
When tragedy struck and wiped off his entire family, Dr Chandrasekhar Sankurathri left behind his comfortable life abroad and got busy serving people in his homeland. His autobiography A Ray of Hope could well epitomise the phrase – when the going gets to
Dr Chandrasekhar’s life fell apart when his wife Manjari, son Kiran and daughter Sarada were all on the ill-fated Air India Flight 18 2 (Kanishka), which exploded en route on 23rd June 1985. All 329 people on board were killed. That’s when he left his comfortable lifestyle in Canada and came back to his hometown in Andhra Pradesh, to start the Sankurathri Foundation in memory of his dearest family. The foundation has implemented various educational and healthcare programs in Andhra Pradesh along with disaster relief programs ever since. Dr Chandrasekhar even started a school, followed by an eye hospital,
for rural people. The philanthropist has several awards in India, Canada and the US for his notable humanitarian work. The 75-year-old shares anecdotes from his life that has the potential of transforming many more lives.
What led you to the decision of penning down A Ray of Hope?
Several people asked me to write about my journey so that it can inspire people. For instance, how to handle difficulties in life, come out of it and use the experience for the benefit of the community. There were requests especially from youngsters. So I thought about it for two to three years and then finally attempted the book.
What is your idea of change?
Everybody has to contribute something to society and people should volunteer to make the community we live in, better. Also, people should not get disheartened with problems in life. I say this moreover to youngsters, who commit suicide for the smallest of issues. I talk to known and unknown young people and when they tell me their problems, I give them my example. I tell them if I could survive losing my wife and children and be what I am today, then you can do it too.
Do you ever reflect on the reason behind the Air India flight mishap?
It’s very clear, isn’t it? Everybody knows who did it but why they did it is something I can never digest. I know the grievances they had, but killing innocent people, who have nothing to do with their fight, is not the way to go about it. Whatever happened has happened, but this shouldn’t happen again.
Tell us about the inception of Sankurathri Foundation?
The idea behind starting Sankurathri Foundation was to immortalise my family. My wife was only 32 when she died. My son was only six and my daughter was three. I wanted to them to live on forever. Just how Taj Mahal was built, I wanted to do this in memory of my family. And most importantly, in the form of service to people. So that thousands of people get benefitted and in the process, the names of my family members would be immortalised.
Why didn’t you start the foundation in Canada, where you were living at that time?
In Canada, there are very few people, who cannot afford services. Whereas in India, there are so many people who are deprived of their primary education, healthcare and many other basic, essential needs. So if anybody wants to serve, India is a potential country. Also, I have always been an Indian in my mind and heart, in spite of living in Canada for 22 years. It was my wife’s desire as well, to come back to India and do something for the people here. I am indirectly fulfilling that desire of hers through the foundation.
What were the initial problems you faced while establishing the foundation in India?
Oh, there were a lot of problems. In Canada, I was a very straightforward person. That trait didn’t work very well here. There is corruption everywhere. So even if you want to get the smallest of things done, you have to bribe. It still bothers me, but somehow I had to live here to complete my mission and help people. Hence, I chose to ignore these problems.
Tell us about any one of your initiatives, that you are very passionate about?
After shifting from Canada to Andhra Pradesh, the first thing I wanted to do was work with an orphanage. But when I was getting my house built, I saw some young children working in the fields nearby. I asked them why they weren’t at school and they said how their fathers had put them to work in the fields all day long. So I asked them if they would go to a school that runs in the evening. They said ‘yes’ promptly and I started teaching them at my home from the next day. It was a class of 25 children, who came to learn english, maths, etc. They never missed a single class. I was really moved by their sincerity and eagerness to learn something after working in the fields the whole day. So I changed my plan of the orphanage and decided to start a school instead. And I am so glad I did it because I see how it has worked for those kids today. They are all well off now, supporting their families with good jobs. And while the national average of school dropouts is 55-60 percent, we never had a single student dropping out in the last 26 years.
Are there any other plans that you would like to implement?
I do have a few plans. One of them is to work on the Mother and Child program and the other is eradication of mosquitoes. I want to do a small pilot project and show people how it can be done. So that somebody could take it up in future and continue the work. Hopefully!