She’s a ventriloquist, a traveller, a Bharatanatyam dancer and Carnatic singer. Laxmi Sundaram might be in her mid-60s, but she still enjoys driving and cooking. However, her joy in life and what “keeps me going” is social work, some through organisations, others on her own.
It all began in 1972, when the mother of three got involved with the Ramakrishna Mission Pratisthan by chance. Since then, she’s worked on various projects as president of the South India Club ladies section, treasurer of the National Indian Women’s Association, which funds education projects, and president of the Rotary Midtown Inner Wheel.
The grandmother of two believes in taking the initiative. “The saddest moment of my life,” is how Sundaram describes her husband passing away, just after she became president of the Rotary club. But she bounced back with the help of her friends, opening a school for streetchildren in Jadu Babu’s Bazar. Now, there are three.
Some of her attempts were successful, like the time when she took little Gauri and Shekhar Shivaram under her wing after their father, a local shopkeeper, died. “My friends called and asked me to help them, because the mother and her children had been cheated and forsaken by the rest of the family. So, I took them in.” she says. Gauri now works as a stenographer in Sundaram’s late husband’s office and Shekhar works in an IT company in Dubai.
Setbacks have never got the woman from Vellore down. Take the case of her attempt to set up an adult education centre in the garage of her home on Bishop Lefroy Road, for maidservants in the area. “There were loads of volunteer teachers and I had got Rotary to allot me funds for equipment. I even used my own money to buy food for them. But even after knocking on doors to ask people to send their servants, there was no co-operation. So, I had to shut it down,” she sighs.
It was after her husband’s death that loneliness hit her. “My sons are abroad and my daughter is in Mumbai. I wondered what would happen if I fell ill.” So, on the request of members of the Mumbai wing of Dignity Foundation, she started off the Calcutta chapter in 2000 and still serves as its president. “My husband was my one champion. He taught me how to drive and got me a car as early as 1968,” smiles Sundaram.
One of her favourite activities is organising and participating in cultural programmes for fundraisers. Dancing might not be an option anymore, but singing is still a passion. “My classical and Usha Uthup reditions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star are very popular,” she laughs. One regret is all she has: “After 45 years in Calcutta, I still don’t know Bengali.”