Saturday, January 1, 2005

Ties that bind
Reeta Sharma

INSAF was founded by a group of NRIs in the US in 1973. In the last 28 years, the organisation has contributed steadily towards the education of the needy in India.

Bhavender Paul Sharma was only a few years older than me. But he had a certain magnetic charm so that as children, my friends and I clung to him as if he was our big brother. We all addressed him as Chichi Bhaiya. He was clearly the leader of our group and extremely kind to all of us. He could hold our attention for hours together whenever he visited us. Then one day we learnt that he had gone to the USA for higher studies. Memories of Chichi Bhaiya began fading with passing years. Once, in a blue moon, some information about him would trickle in.

Many years later, I learnt that Chichi Bhaiya had married some beautiful American woman. Again, a couple of years went by with no news about him. Then one day, Chichi Bhaiya’s American wife came to visit me. I could not believe my eyes. There she was clad in a cotton saree and her hair tied in a traditional bun with flowers tucked in. I had never seen an Indian woman dressed as elegantly in a saree as she was. None of my relations have ever asked me for copies of my articles so that they could read them but this was the first thing she asked me. Chichi Bhaiya had not accompanied her and I’d almost forgotten what he looked like.

It was only last year that I finally caught up with him. Chichi Bhaiya is leading a successful life in the US without compromising on his values. He does not look down upon India and continues to be full of compassion and kindness. He had become a part of a group of Indians, who shared his philosophy and his way of life. Chichi Bhaiya had left India after completing chemical engineering from Chandigarh. In the USA, he did MS, PhD and MBA. Today, he is working for a prestigious pharmaceutical company. However, earning for one’s self has never been the motto of his life. He took the initiative of motivating many other NRIs to join hands to play a role back in India.

They have formed an organisation called INSAF (Indian Schools Alumni and Friends). It was founded in 1973 with the belief that those who were lucky to get better education in India should contribute towards the unfortunate there. Over the last 28 years, the group has maintained a modest but steady effort towards the cause of education in India.

INSAF members come from all parts of the country and have taken up a variety of projects in their parent states where they had studied. The members have been donating towards community work and natural calamities like the earthquake in Gujarat. All of them donate money for scholarships to deserving students of needy families besides funding SOS children homes.

The organisation is also supporting children of Bal Niketan in Panchkula. INSAF is associated with the worldwide SOS organisation, which is engaged in 131 countries. In India, it is active in 34 locations and cares for some 200,000 orphans. In Rajpura, for instance, a home was established for eight to 10 children with a "mother" to look after them. This was done in collaboration with the Rotary Club. Likewise, in Nangal, the members supplied clothing given by the California Rotary Club to some needy people.

Meanwhile, once again, Chichi Bhaiya’s American wife gave me a pleasant surprise, as she did the first time. When I landed at Los Angeles, I was totally taken aback to find her standing at the airport with a placard bearing my name. As per programme, I was supposed to be visiting their home in San Matio three days later. But since she knew my programme, she decided to give me a surprise by visiting the airport just to greet me.

And, she had a still bigger surprise in store for me. She told me that Chichi Bhaiya was, in fact, my mamaji. The moment I landed at her home, she took out the family tree and pointed out the connection. Strangely, nobody in the family had ever corrected me.