Subhasini Mistry: From vegetable seller to Padma Shri

There are few who dare to dream and fewer who make that dream a reality. A 75-year-old woman, who lost her husband at the age of 23 due to lack of medical treatment, is today the proud founder of a hospital meant to make sure others don’t suffer the fate she did.

And the icing on the cake came this year: the government of India recognised this humble old lady’s achievements with a Padma Shri award, one of the the most prestigious civilian awards in India.

Subhashini Mistry was born in a poor family of farmers in West Bengal. She was married at the early age of 12. By 23, she was a widow: her husband, a poor labourer, had passed away due to lack of good treatment at a government hospital.

The steely will in her personality found its first appearance then. Though left all alone with her kids, she made a firm decision: to never let anyone else face the kind of difficulties she faced due to lack of proper healthcare facilities.

For the next little-more-then-two decades, she washed put her heart and her mind towards fulfilling her dream. To earn money, she washed dishes in people’s homes, polished shoes, worked as a construction labourer and sold vegetables at Kolkata’s Park Circus. She never spent a single penny on life’s luxuries, such was her determination.

She has recalled in interviews the fact that she once used to earn about five paise, of which two paise was spent on rent and two paise on eating, while she saved one paisa.

A silver lining in Subhasini’s life was her younger son, Ajoy. He was a good student but she couldn’t afford his schooling. So she sent him to an orphanage. Ajoy became a doctor, and became an accomplice of his mother for fulfilling her dream.

By late 1993, a temporary shed had been put up in Hanspukur near Kolkata, on an acre of plot bought by Subhasini from her life’s savings. Son Ajoy and another volunteer doctor worked there after finishing their shifts at a hospital.

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The early days (source: gulfnews.com)

The first day, they treated more than 500 patients. Subhashini has recalled holding back tears as she watched patients line up outside the shed. However, her determination wasn’t so easy to satisfy. This is not enough, she told Ajoy. They needed to build a proper hospital.

So she went back to selling vegetables. Her elder son, Sujoy, who had graduated from college, joined her and together they began earning more and saving more.

Ajoy, meanwhile, began knocking on corporate doors. Soon funds began to trickle in – from companies, local residents and charities – and in February 1995, the foundation stone for a hospital was laid. A year later, in March 1996, the two-storey hospital, aptly named Humanity Hospital was inaugurated.

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Subhashini Mistry in front of her dream hospital, as it was when it was built (source: silverawards.harmonyindia.org)

Today, Humanity Multispeciality Hospital is a busy hospital. The building is located in the midst of a three-acre plot in Hanspukur, surrounded vibrant greenery, and with the best of doctors and medical equipment. It has 45 beds and a 10-bedded ICU, spread across 12 departments. Major surgeries for the poor are done for less than Rs 5,000 and minor ailments are treated for less than Rs 10. It treats thousands of poor patients every year free of cost.

Last August, it opened telemedicine centres in all the districts of West Bengal, a project the hospital intends to scale up to the all-India level.

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The hospital as it stands today (source: humanityhospital.org)

The hospital also has a unit, with the same latest technologies, in the Sundarbans. It is located at Santigachi village in Gosaba block in South 24 Parganas district.

The hospital’s motto – ‘We are with you … ‘ – is proof of Subhasini Mistry’s mission in life: to simply help those in need, in whatever way possible. The ellipses at the end is revealing of the open-hearted desire that Subhasini Mistry embodies; money is never an issue.

Ajoy and his three siblings are Subhasini’s pillars of strength. Ajoy’s wife and sister are nurses at the hospital. Dr Ajoy Kumar Mistry is the chairman of Humanity Hospital.

The aged Subhasini still leads a busy life – visiting her hospital daily to tend to her patients, many too poor to afford any payment, and many of whom consider her to be their mother.

Despite her age, she is quick to point out to anyone eager to talk to her that her mission is not over yet. In fact, it’ll never be over, for the desire to help people in need is the reason for her living.

As the kind old lady states on her hospital’s website,

We ensure that no one is denied access to medical services

 

Visit the website of Humanity Hospital for details about the hospital and its facilities. (Strangely, the Bengali and Hindi versions of the website have hardly anything in those languages; most of the writing is in English. These need attention, Humanity being essentially a hospital dedicated to the poor, who would be more conversant in the vernacular.)

For those wishing to donate, the doors are always open. To donate online, donate to Humanity Hospital.

Listen to Subhashini Mistry narrating her life’s story, from the struggles to the triumphs, at SN Bose Auditorium, IIT Kharagpur on September 6, 2014 at an IITTA-organised workshop, in a follow-up of Teacher’s Day celebration.

A version of this article first appeared on the website, http://www.maamatimanush.tv

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