Thirumani: Changing the life tune of a great bell
This story is a narration of a young man I met in a slum in Chennai in 1999. His name has been changed to protect his identity. I had decided to use the pseudoname "Thirumani" which means grand or golden (thiru) bell (mani) in Tamil. To me, after coming into his life his tune became grander and his future more golden.

“Thirumani” was a strong willed teenager my classmate and I met through our fieldwork partner from Loyola College. Thirumani lived with his mom and dad in a tenement house behind Gandhi Nagar flats. Thirumani and his dad supported their family by working in a family owned tea stall.

However, a few months before we met, Thirumani had fallen down some stairs and broke his leg. He was not able to visit a doctor to help with the infection, and had to get his leg amputated from the knee down. Due to this, his mother had to replace Thirumani in their family tea stall. This upset the whole family structure, especially since; in their family it was not considered standard for mom to work outside the home. One of the major reasons for this was that mom’s housework was indeed a full time and highly labor intensive job.

Living in a 12ftX12ft one-room tenement constructed of mud walls and a thatched roof, they had minimal indoor facilities. Their hut had a small burner to cook food and several metal pots holding water. Beds and bedding were stored in the top part of the tenement in the day, which included blankets and straw mattresses. They had no furniture as such. Mom had to wake up early to stand in a cue for an hour or more at the community well or at a community water truck. The lines for the water truck were always longer and one could only carry so much water. Water had to be collected for bathing, washing and cooking. Bathing was done in a community bathing area some distance (five minute walk) from their tenement. Everything was done manually. Mom also cooked everything from scratch, spending much time buying, washing, cutting and preparing vegetables and other meals. Hence, for mom to work outside the home caused an imbalance.

As social workers, we decided to help Thiru by taking him to the government hospital that specializes in limb rehabilitation. The hospital, being 45 kilometers from his house, was not easy to travel to and from home. In fact, transportation had to only by done by auto rickshaw, which cost about 30 rupees (75 cents) one way. This was very difficult for his family to afford considering they were earning Rs 200 (about $5) a week, if they were lucky. We had transported Thiru twice, but were unluckily to get him admitted on those days.

Some weeks later our Loyola College peer had scheduled an appointment on a day my field work partner and I could not go, and was able to get him admitted and a new leg attached to his ‘stump.’ After a few months, he was totally rehabilitated, and could walk on this new leg. Due to this, he could take over the tea stall on his own, and his mom could go back to housework, and dad could find alternative employment.

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