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!

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