Pp 288; Rs 375
Dr R Balasubramaniam (Balu) is a doctor by training but some early experiences in his profession turned him into doctor of society instead of doctor for human beings. This book i, the Citizen, is story of a person who has spent 30 years of his prime years in the service of society. It is not a biography, nor is it a depressing story of a person who has spent major part of his 30 years of social activism in tribal areas near Mysuru in Karnataka. It is not a self- laudatory tome of a person eager to get appreciative ovation. It is an uplifting account of humble, self-effacing, non-publicity seeker person who has worked quietly with his own people as a part of his duty to society. It is about his evolution as he seeks better ways of serving his brethren. He speaks more as a member of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM) that he founded; and his move from social service to social advocacy. It is a book that could be a citizen’s guide to the world of social activism.
It is by sheer accident that I got my hands to this book. A young volunteer, an IIT alumni and an MS from US, Shobit Mathur who is founding member of Vision India Foundation who had come to Mumbai to spread the word about this young organisation, gave me this book as co-publisher of this book. It was another stroke of good luck that I had an occasion to meet gentle smiling Dr Balasubramaniam in Mumbai within a month of getting this book during a Litfest organised by Swami Vivekananda Institute of Management. It was much easier to read the book and understand it as I could put a face to the experiences of a social activist, a worthy citizen of this nation.
The most striking and endearing part of the book is its story of ordinary Bharatiya. Not stories about us, city bred educated well off people, but of people living on the fringes of our society, who are a blur at the periphery of our vision; whom we see while travelling but only see as another object on the side of the road. These stories are not narrated with pathos, but with straight forward honesty. Without any flourish from Balu, they simply touch you deep down and you slowly start seeing these tribal brethren with a new eye. There is no anger flowing from Balu when he talks of these touching experiences many of them changing his own life at different steps.
Dr Balasubramaniam is impressed and moved with their dignity and their honesty. He feels one with them when they share their food, love, travails and helplessness and come forward to work with him when he feels that may be, he cannot really do much to change wretched condition of poverty struck society that gave this nation so much for its progress but has been sidelined. Though SVYM has worked mainly in tribal area near Mysuru in a few tehsils, and his new organisation Grassroots Research & Advocacy Movement (GRAAM) is head quartered in Mysuru; the experiences could be from any part of Bharat. Any person working in some other region of Bharat can easily identify Balu’s experience.
As I read through the book ‘i, the citizen’, I could mentally divide the book in three parts – First is his experience of starting his journey in social service as a young doctor. This is full of anecdotes and most uplifting and wondrous, heart touching part of this book. Second part is about his social advocacy and work as an organiser of citizen’s movement in educating people on Right to Information (RTI), fighting against corruption. This is critical part of this book, but being of recent history it sounds familiar except that he has lived these movements moving amongst ordinary citizens. Third part is about his evolution to research and advocacy based on ground level experience in social movements. This would sound preachy except that he has actually lived this life while we have only debated it.
Latter two parts are thought provoking and a lesson for people who write about corruption, peoples’ rights and talk big on TVs, though not as gripping as first part. Author shares his experience in lucid style about utilising various social welfare schemes that government floats and why they fail and how difficult it is to make them succeed. Any person who has some inkling towards social work or seva, needs to study this book, not just read to open up her/his eyes to real functioning of our society outside the light circles of light that we enjoy in cities, how one needs to work patiently with people as one’s own family, work patiently with governing apparatus that is so foreign to real world of Bharatiya citizens and take along people to bring in positive change in the society. After all, political governance cannot bring in change; society has to be part of it.