Around the college campus, everyone knew Soundaraammal, aged 79, as the ‘Scavenger’. She was always hard at work cleaning the compound and street which housed one of Southern India’s most reputable private women’s college in the city of Trichy, located along the Kaveri River in Tamil Nadu, India.
Despite the hard labour and scorching sun, Soundaraammal always went about her day’s work with a smile on her face. A rather private person, Soundaraammal, often consumed plain rice and kept free meals consisting of curry and vegetables provided by the College in a separate container. When asked why, she candidly replied, “for a purpose”. She added, “Rice gives me energy. What I have is the best, so I better make use of it. If you think rice won’t give you energy, then it won’t. It is all up to a person’s mentality”. Little did anyone know the painful ordeal and struggles she faced throughout her life.
Believe in yourself. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle!
Soundaraammal was born in a middle class family. Her parents married her off at a relatively young age. She was forced to fend for herself and her three daughters when her husband, an alcoholic, eventually left them. Soundaraammal faced many trials in her life, in particular, the tragic loss of her children. Her eldest daughter died at the age of 14 due to severe diarrhoea. A few years later, her second daughter died during childbirth, leaving Soundaraammal to look after twin baby girls and their elder sister as their father had abandoned them. Soundaraammal had no one else to turn when she needed it the most, even her youngest daughter had eloped and could not be traced.
It was during the toughest moments in her life that Soundaraammal relied on her inner strength and gathered the courage to work relentlessly eventhough she could only make ends meet from her earnings as a cleaner – it was all worth it to her for the sake of her granddaughters’ future and well-being – “you know my babies share their food with me, they give me three spoonful, that is my secret to a healthy mind and body”, she says with a radiant smile.
Soundaraammal’s pride and joy – a clean environment and her granddaughters
Soundaraammal strongly believes in the importance of a clean environment. She separates recyclable items and educates students at the College about the adverse effects of plastic on the environment. Above all, Soundaraammal advocates education for girls, “education is a must for girls”, she reminds us all. It is heartwarming to know that Soundaraammal is over the moon that her first granddaughter is starting her undergraduate degree course soon and her other two grandchildren will be completing their schooling as well.
Soundaraammal’s resilience teaches us to keep a positive mindset in life especially when we are faced with obstacles.
“Always count your blessings, no matter how small they may be. Through good deeds, you are bound to receive more blessings!”.