Go on to the Indian Railways website and try to find a train to Palghat Town. You probably won’t find one. Search again but this time write Palakkad, and you’ll have a hundred connections! I spent quite a lot of time figuring this out as I had to go to Palghat and didn’t know that they were the same place and the same stations. Anyways, now you know!
Palghat is an extremely important town of Kerela as it is situated in between a gap of the Western Ghats, thus, making it a stopover for those who are crossing into Tamil Nadu and are on their way to Coimbatore. So every bus and every train has to stop here! My train journey was quite uneventful until a co-passenger came in and sat next to me. With time to kill, Mr.Durga Prasad decided to educate me on Kerela’s future. The discussion revolved around the topic- Was Kerela moving towards construction, deconstruction or evaluation? Though this discussion took more than hour and some chicken biryani, the jist was that Durga Prasad wasnt happy with Kerela’s progress. How can a state with more than ninety percent literacy move forward when the labour charges Rs 500 a day? With little to comment and lots of write, I nodded my head whenever he asked me if I agreed with him or not?
I was received at the station by Afzal, my host and now a dear friend. Within no time, he made sure that I had a party to attend, which included enthusiastic photographers like me. He, along with his wife Cr.Boobul and Cr.Ramya, also drove me to the projects of Ladies Circle the next day. Within seconds, I fell in love with Palghat’s hospitality! Or was it Palakkad?
We first went to Devashrayam, a charitable institution which works with the mentally challenged. One of their activities is Annadaanam, which is a free lunch program at the Palakkad District Hospital. More than 150 patients are served hot meals daily since 1996! The food is prepared in their own kitchen as well to which the Ladies Circle has contributed. I visited their program Aashrayam, which is vocational rehabilitation Center, which has programs like khadi spinning, agarbatti and phenyl making, paper bag making, handwash and liquid soap. Music and dance are also taught to the 40 inmates here. Daily yoga and meditation is also a necessity for them.
I was extremely moved by this project and for a simple reason- i saw smiles around me. From each and every student to the faculty, there were smiles and a ray of hope. We attended a small session with the students, who wanted to show their talents. One of them remembered calendars and could tell you the day if you mentioned the date! Another was a walking band by himself. Not only he sang, he also imitated the instruments that came in the songs! Truly amazing and inspiring.
Our next stop was Chaithanya, another school for special children. This school had children of all age groups and also divided the classes accordingly. It is also the only institute which admits children below five years of age. With fifty children on campus, they are looking to build more rooms to accommodate more. While I walked from room to room, I met three students, related to each other. The very thought of the parents plight sent shivers down my spine. Till today, I pray for their wellness.
The next stop was Ambalakkad Anganwadi- a pre school. One of the earliest projects of Palakkad Round Table and Ladies Circle, this one room school became one of my favorites. When I walked in, the children sitting in the verandah and having their mid day meal. A huge banyan tree grows through the boundary of the school and gives it shade throughout the day. Outside a few stray dogs wait for their turn to play with the children. My friends still come back to celebrate the Republic and Independence day, sports day and to distribute clothes and toys. The school houses 25 children from the neighbouring localities.
My last stop was to meet a lady called Razia, who has inspired me and made me realize the power of dreaming and also achieving it! Razia married at a young age of sixteen and lost her husband to cancer within a year. Still young, she was asked to marry again to which she refused. Her decision to live on the memory of her love made her start an old age home for women. Trained as a nurse, she now takes care of around ten women from her salary. She is confident to make a bigger and better old age home soon and upon meeting her, I realized how convinced and confident she was. Razia’a faced glowed with confidence and within no time I vowed to make her dream come true. I still don’t know how, but am looking for people to come forward to monetary help her.
I left Palakkad with fond memories. The town in the middle of Western Ghats, not only were inspirational for me but also very warm. I met some of the most beautiful people on this journey, who had dedicated their life to working for others. I also met some people who have become friends for life. I was done with Kerela and now was going to cross over to Tamil Nadu, via Palakkad- a must stop for everyone.