Cousins in arms for cause close to heart

Sunil Chandra Dutt flanked by his grandsons Rishabh Badoni (right) and Siddharth Sengupta; patients outside Ram Mohan Roy Seva Pratisthan
Patients wait for their turn inside the clinic; (right) the medicine counter. Pictures by Anup Bhattacharya

Two do-gooder Calcutta cousins have helped set up a clinic in Chandernagore that offers treatment to those who cannot afford it.

Cousins Rishabh Badoni, 19, a former student of La Martiniere for Boys now studying at Bard College in New York, and Siddharth Sengupta, 23, a Calcutta-based architect, have organised fund-raising exhibitions for three years to develop NGO Ram Mohan Roy Seva Pratisthan's clinic by the same name - a lifeline for those who cannot avail themselves of costly medical services.

Despite the presence of government medical centres and a sub-divisional hospital in Chandernagore, the common belief is that no other place can provide the same service with care as the doctors and social workers at this clinic can.

Take for instance, Kakoli Singha from Burdwan's Memari, a widow with two children. She travels for more than an hour by train every morning carrying fresh paneer, which she sells in Chandernagore.

Three years ago she had a skin allergy and got herself treated at Ram Mohan Roy Seva Pratisthan for a nominal fee. Since then, Kakoli has been visiting this clinic for her or her children's medical needs.

"I used to live with my husband in Chandernagore. After his death, I moved to Memari to live with my in-laws," Singha said. "But I prefer this clinic as I can consult a doctor and get medicines for a nominal charge. This NGO has been providing good service for so many years... I have faith in them."

Like Singha, many underprivileged patients from various parts of Hooghly, Burdwan and Bankura get themselves treated at the clinic for a fee of Rs 10.

Every week, from Tuesday to Thursday, the 1,200sq ft clinic is chock-a-block with patients. Three doctors are available for consultation from 4pm. Fifty patients, on average, turn up every day.

"Apart from general physicians, we have a gynaecologist, cardiologist, paediatrician, dermatologist, orthopaedist, psychiatrist and psychologist visiting the clinic throughout the three days," said Ranjit Kumar Ghosh, the treasurer of Ram Mohan Roy Seva Pratisthan. "We can refer serious cases to doctors who run private chambers in Chandernagore. They see patients for free."

Medicines are collected from various sources. "We collect free samples from medical representatives as well as from doctors," said skin specialist Dr Sunil Chandra Dutt, who's been associated with the clinic for seven years.

Homemaker Surupa Chakraborty visits the clinic in the evenings to take stock of and distribute medicines.

"What we need are nutritional supplements for babies and mothers. I see a several patients with anaemia and gynaecological problems and children suffering from malnutrition," said gynaecologist Dr Roma Sengupta, who visits the clinic once a week.

A member of the NGO sponsors tests for those who cannot afford it. "We avoid expensive tests, but if there are serious cases where specialist doctors would want more investigation, we request for a discount from diagnostic centres," said Dutt. "We have several volunteers at the clinic. An executive body runs the NGO... but now we are thinking of setting up a trustee board so that, after us, no one tries to sell or rent the property for other purposes."

The NGO has been working for the welfare of the underprivileged for the past 42 years.

"The clinic was started by Renuka Betaille, nee Mukherjee, in 1973 in the old post office building. Later, it shifted to the building of the primary school, of which I was the headmaster," said Ghosh. It was not until 2014 that the clinic got its own building at Goabagan in Chandernagore's Lalbagan. "Most of what you see here is donated. We collected funds from local people. A resident donated the land."

Dutt found support in his grandsons, Rishabh and Siddharth, and their friends. A corpus of Rs 1.5 lakh was collected towards constructing the building through an art and photography exhibition and donations from close friends.

The dedication of those working at the clinic motivated Rishabh and Siddharth to do something more for the NGO.

"We have started a new design collective called 145 East, where we design products with traditional Indian handicrafts," said Rishabh, a student of engineering and literature at New York's Bard College. "Our first exhibition at Weavers Studio had a theme of gamchha. We designed skirts, tops, tablemats and a whole lot of things using the gamchha."

Metro had reported in July 2013 how Rishabh, along with Siddharth and friends, had turned his Jodhpur Park home into an art gallery with photographs, paintings and artefacts collected from friends and acquaintances to raise money for the Chandernagore NGO.

The French Consulate and Alliance Francaise, Calcutta, had extended their support to the exhibition-cum-sale that fetched Rs 56,000.

In December 2011, Rishabh with his friend had rushed to AMRI Hospitals in Dhakuria to help in the rescue operation following the fire in Annexe I that took 90 lives.

"Social work runs in our blood and Rishabh and Siddharth have got it from there," said Dutt.

Rishabh said it was important to support people who were devoted to social work.

Siddharth, who studied architecture at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Institute of Technology in Gujarat's Vasad, is helping with design and production at 145 East. "The last exhibition helped create an awareness about the NGO and we managed to collect Rs 12,000 through it," said the architect who has just completed a year's teaching in Gujarat.


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