Andhra Pradesh doctor channelises inner grief to empower the needy

The incredible story of Dr Chandrasekhar Sankurathri who channelised his grief to empower the needy could be a movie soon.

Manju Latha Kalanidhi Published :  21st November 2021 12:03 PM   |   Published :   |  21st November 2021 12:03 PM
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Students of Sarada Vidyalayam, Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh. (Photo| EPS)

He could have been the hero of a Greek tragedy. First, his mother passed away from an unknown illness when he was seven years old. When he was nine, his elder brother went missing. The same year, his family was rendered destitute by the Godavari floods. At 13, he was devastated after seeing his sister commit suicide.

At 42, he lost his wife, son and daughter in the Air India Kanishka crash caused by a terrorist attack in 1985.

Yet, as he turned 78 this November 20, Dr Chandrasekhar Sankurathri refuses to be bowed by fate. All this man, who established a foundation that runs  an eye care institute and school in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh that touches over one crore people in the state, has to say is: "Let's build a better India."

Incidentally, Sankurathri's birthday falls on the same day as his son's. "It's never a 'happy' birthday for me," he says wryly. The most he usually does is three of his favourite things. Eat a peanut butter jelly sandwich, sport a new cap (gifted by the foundation member) and silently contemplate at the statue of his wife and children which stands under a tree at the entrance of the Sankurathri Foundation campus.

But this birthday is special. The 32-year-old Sankurathri Foundation spread across five acres has touched an important milestone. The Srikiran Institute of Ophthalmology, its eye care arm, has completed over 340,000 cataract surgeries for free. Sarada Vidyalayam, its educational arm, has educated 4,500 children so far.

Sankurathri is not a medical doctor, but a parasitologist with a PhD degree from Canada who has worked in Ottawa for two decades before the tragedy prompted him to return to India to find his purpose in life. 

"The underprivileged need good education and healthcare. My son Srikiran had dreamed of becoming an ophthalmologist. My daughter Sarada wished to go to school. Maybe I am just fulfilling their desires," he says.

He was the first Indian to be nominated for CNN Hero award by CNN International in 2008 and awarded the 'Humanitarian of the Year' by the Indo-Canada Chamber of commerce, Canada in 2013. 

Sankurathri's extraordinary life story could be a biopic in Telugu next year if all goes well. A renowned filmmaker could be helming the project. But Sankurathri dismisses the topic and proceeds towards the foyer of the eye institute. Currently, he is on a mission to make his foundation a paperless office and his team is creating the software. 

"Transparency is the cornerstone for foundations like this, which run on public money. By the year-end, our patients will be issued smart cards with data that will help us understand the pattern of blindness, vulnerable age groups and the geographical location. This will help us strategise our outreach programmes," he says. 

The institute conducts free mobile monthly camps in remote corners of the state using buses. The treatment is, of course, free and the patients are given care, medicines and food until they are fit enough to return home. 

His school has been providing free education, books, three sets of uniforms, transportation, midday meal and medicines free of cost to all the students. Sankurathri raises donations through fundraisers and from corporate or individual donations. His next aim is to build a global ophthalmology academy to further the community eye care services.

As the interview inches to close, a farmer from the neighbouring coastal village comes to greet Sankurathri on his birthday and thank him for the treatment. A smiling picture of his family seems like a perfect backdrop for the moment.
 


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