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Published on September 25th, 2015

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An angel in white clothing for cancer patients in Mumbai

Harakhchand Sawla has been feeding poor cancer patients and their relatives near Tata Hospital for 32 years – for free.
by Ravi Shet

For most of us, our lives are a constant struggle to earn money and ‘get ahead’. Then there are others like Harakhchand Sawla (56), who find their own ways to make the world a better place. The Mulund resident left behind a flourishing business 32 years ago to start caring for cancer patients and their relatives with free food and medicines.

The sprightly man is always dressed in a white kurta and pajama, completing his look with white chappals or shoes. He can be seen in a lane behind Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital either distributing food on a daily basis to the cancer patients and their relatives, or simply talking to them to soothe their nerves. The activity happens from his trust office situated here.

“I started by serving food to 15 people. Today, we serve food to around 700 people every day,” he says. “My parents taught me that we should look after disadvantaged human beings unselfishly, so this is my way of doing so.” His endeavour began 30 years ago when he noticed cancer patients and their relatives coming from different parts of India and staying on the roads with their luggage and pockets almost empty due to travel and treatment costs.

“I felt bad for their condition. Cancer treatment is very costly and most people cannot afford it. That’s when I decided that I would help these people,” he remembers. To do so, he decided to give up his business – which astonished his relatives. “They thought I was crazy. But my wife was my inspiration and support during this time. I started distributing free food for these people and paid for it out of my own pocked for 12 years. After that, people started helping with money, old clothes, toys, or sponsoring lunch or sweets,” he explains.

Meals being served near Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital, Mumbai.

Harakhchand starts his day with yoga and a walk, after which he reaches his trust office in Parel at noon, working till 8 pm. The lunches he distributes comprise chapatis, rice, dal, sabzi, fruit and milk, with sweets being served occasionally. Lunch starts at 12.30 pm and dinner at 6.30 pm. He says, “Donors serve sweets or sometimes we do, when it is my birthday or some festival. We also serve turmeric-infused milk to those suffering from throat cancer or who have undergone chemotherapy and find it difficult to digest food.” He adds, “I am pained to see small children suffering from cancer. We arrange a lot of activities for them, so that they are occupied and can distance themselves from their pain for at least a short while.”

Apart from providing free food, medicines, walkers and wheel chairs, Harakhchand has performed the last rites of the deceased that have been abandoned by their families, or those who had no money to perform the funeral. He now says he wants to build a hospital for end stage cancer patients who are not able to afford the treatment costs or who are abandoned by their families. “I also want to build an old age home where proper care is given at zero cost to those people with physical disability or paralysis,” he signs off.

Harakhchand Sawla can be contacted at Jeevan Jyot Cancer Relief and Care Trust, 3/9 Kondaji Chawl, Jerbai Wadia Road, Parel, Mumbai – 400 012. Call 022-2415 3453.

(Pictures courtesy Ravi Shet)

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