Monday, November 2, 2015

Dollops of Love

Image from here
Lighting up lives begins with a simple intention: a desire to do something, a desire to make the lives of those around you better, brighter and happier. For Mark D’Souza, this began with his own story of empathy and love for his parents. Spreading joy in the lives of five aged people to start with, Mark is on a journey to brighten more lives in Mumbai. Here’s his story, in his own words.

Professionally, I am a broker. I work with properties and also work with providing manpower in the form of security guards, ward boys, caretakers and the like. I run a charitable trust, an old age home called the Crystal Light Home. It houses just five aged ladies right now, and my family and I take care of them right now. My family – i.e., my wife, son, daughter and son-in-law support me.

For me, it all started with the loss of my parents. I was only five or six when my mother passed away. My father passed away when he was 90. The loss of one’s parents is a painful one – and only a person who has lost his parents can and will understand what it feels like. My journey with Crystal Light Home began with an outright purchase of the property. I went to the bank with my wife, and we had a conversation with the manager, telling him that we wanted to open an old age home, and asked if he could sanction a loan. Within a few minutes, he called the chairman, and the chairman immediately sanctioned the loan and approved its grant for us – that is the beauty of it all. It was only after that that he asked us for the paperwork – it was just amazing to see how helpful people were! Now, we have considered expanding beyond the five ladies, and to take on more people – a friend of ours has told us that there is some property at his disposal which he is willing to sell, and we are in the process of talking to the bank.

Only recently, a man of about 70 came to me, with a pitiable story. He lost his wife, and in the time that she was alive, she advised him to write off all their property in the names of both their daughters, which he did. Now, he has no money of his own, and is barely allowed into his own property which his daughters take care of. They are, in effect, really just waiting for him to die so that they can divide the property and enjoy the money from it. Half of my office space is given to a franchise holder of Professional Couriers. I asked the manager there if he could give this 70-year-old gentleman a job where he could take home some money to feed himself. We are working on something for him. It is things like these that really make me want to keep going. I have personally been through many hardships in life, and I know what it feels like to be in a place where you are suffering. My only thought has been to do something for others, and to empower them. Old age is a difficult phase, and only one who has gone through it can truly understand what it feels like.

I also run a free tiffin service in Borivali, and give tiffin to about 40 people a day. It is for elderly people who live alone and cannot cook. I serve vegetarian food on weekdays and non-vegetarian food on the weekends. I am very clear about giving them the best food. No mixing up the old and the new, or stale and fresh food. I tell my maid to do her part, too, and not to neglect this – because God is watching. The food is cooked with minimal salt and spices so it can be digested. We make chappatis, rice, dal, some vegetables - all with a dollop of love! I pack sweets and ice creams sometimes, and on Sundays, we make sure to add fish or chicken. We try not to repeat recipes so that they don't feel like they're eating the same thing again and again.

Image from here

We also hope to do something for people in the last stage of cancer. We want to bring them to a space where they will be comfortable, cared for and protected. It is challenging, but we hope to do this.

People have been positive throughout. Sometimes, people approach me saying they have a birthday to celebrate, and ask me to make something or give the people in my care something in honour of their celebration. Recently, someone gave me Rs. 200 and said he wanted to celebrate his birthday – and I bought apples for everyone and gave them one each. On someone else’s birthday, we made some homemade cake and gave them to everyone. There has also been criticism – people have said that I am doing this for property – what would I do with property? I am 58 – how much longer do I have? I came with nothing, I am going with nothing. What will I do with property? The name Mark D’Souza is nothing to all this – it is just about caring for people. Like the Bible says, what the right hand does, the left hand must not know. I am only a messenger!
Recently, I met Amitabh Bachchan, the Hindi film actor. He told me, “All of us have the money and the resources to do such things – but the difference is that you have the courage to do it!”