People We Forget

People We Forget


NOV 11

Member of the executive committee, the parish council and the liturgical committee, co-ordinator of the BCC’s (Basic Christian Communities), catechism teacher, Charismatic prayer group member, business man, father, guide of the parish youth, patriarch of his family, the list goes on… and yet Joseph Sheeban has time for mass every day—sometimes even twice a day!

The eldest of the four children of Daniel and Assunta, Joseph is a hardworking young man who gives his time for others. As children, Joseph and his brothers and sisters had to attend mass every day and when the first Mass was over they were taken for a second Mass, especially during the holiday season. His mother was a teacher in the parish school, while his father, after a short stint with Caritas,  went on to support his family by giving tuition in English and French. Joseph had his early education in the parish school, but moved on to a better known high school. His family nurtured his spiritual life right from early childhood. He says: “Our whole family gathered for prayers every evening for an hour or more, the rosary always followed by bible reading and other prayers. No day went by without morning mass and evening prayers.” Joseph inherited this practice from his father, who had a major influence on him. The children were taught by their dad to ‘obey blindly.’

Joseph and his siblings knew poverty from childhood. The meagre earning of the parents could never get them anything beyond the bare necessities of life. But what Joseph remembers vividly is that every Wednesday, without fail, either the postman with a money order from a friend of his father or somebody from the parish or elsewhere would turn up at the house bringing some goodies or just a few necessities required to cook a meal. Says Joseph: “My dad had great faith in St. Joseph, and prayed to him, especially when we were short of food. Dad would always say, ‘Leave it to Divine Providence; someone will bring it for us’.”  This happened every Wednesday.

Joseph’s desire to become a graduate was not to be, since the family was always in dire financial straits. All that Joseph could complete was a Diploma in Electronics and Communication Engineering. With this, he began helping the family at the age of nineteen. He worked at several jobs and rose to become a senior stores manager in Videocon. At the same time, he also secured a degree by correspondence from IGNOU. When the company shut shop, Joseph began his own business. He depended all the time on Divine Providence and trusted the Lord to lead him.

His faithfulness in attending Mass daily continues. He also immerses himself in the Charismatic prayer services and night vigils in the neighbouring parishes. He and his brother would also take people by bicycle to attend programmes in the neighbouring parishes. Both brothers had a deep desire to join the priesthood but his was not to be. Joseph’s His father asked him to give up the idea of priesthood and take care of his siblings as well as arrange for his own marriage and those of his sister and youngest brother. With much reluctance Joseph accepted and continued to work hard and sustain the family while supporting his immediate younger brother in the seminary.

Joseph married a nurse called Isabel. “How did you meet,” I asked him. “Ah, at one of the Charismatic prayer group meetings.” Together they have raised two wonderful children, who emulate their parents in attending daily Mass and also contribute to the parish by involving themselves in various activities. Today, Joseph, Isabel and their children give their time on Sundays for parish work, irrespective of whatever else needs to be done. A great organiser, Joseph is very often entrusted with the catering for various get-togethers in the parish. In his turn Joseph gives much of the credit to his wife, saying that Isabel is the backbone of his functioning!

Conscientious and sensitive to the needs of others, Joseph is able to handle the youth of the parish, and, as co-ordinator of the BCC’s, attends the various BCC regularly. Calm and composed, he has a ready respectful smile and is good in resolving conflicts, especially among the youth in the parish.

Apart from sincerity and honesty, the hallmark of his small business of running an electrical repair and service centre, through which he provides employment to a number of young people, is his dependence on Divine Providence. I have often heard him saying, “God has given me much; I also have to give to others as much. Let us continue to pray and trust in the Lord, so that we can give more time for His work.”


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Ordetta Mendoza

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People We Forget

Poor and Unwanted Then; Grateful and Happy Now

Sep 09

It was a hot Sunday afternoon a few days ago when I stared into a familiar face and then broke into a smile. Was I not happy to see this lovely young woman who also gave me a great smile and greeted me with much joy? “Hello, Ma’am, how are you?” she said. After a few pleasantries she called out to a young man. She said to me, “Meet Roy, my son.” I found myself looking into the face of a young man whom I had held as a baby! “Of course, I know him,” I said. Several minutes of conversation followed when suddenly it dawned on me: Here is someone who, through sheer dint of hard work and sincerity, has made a mark for herself and her wonderful mother, who had gone against much prejudice in adopting her.

Donata Mary was the eighth child of a poor farmer who had died from a snake bite before his last child was born. Immediately after her birth, her grandmother carried her and gave her to the Sisters in St. Anne’s Hospital and Convent in Kumbakonam.   Sisters from Mercy Home, Chennai were in Kumbakonam for a meeting on that day and they had a request for adoption of a child from a family in Chennai. The sisters carried the new born to Chennai with great enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, seeing that the baby was dark-skinned, the couple that had asked for the child refused to adopt her.   Being a weak baby, Donata was kept in the special care of Ms. Beryl Rodrigues, who worked at the Mercy Home.  She not only took care of the baby; she adopted her legally.

Donata graduated with a degree in Zoology, and completed a secretarial course as well. I remember seeing her in her neatly pressed school uniform and beautiful long hair in braids. Her sparkling eyes always conveyed a sense of innocence and happiness. She used to cling to Beryl as if someone would separate the two of them!

Donna told me, “Life was very difficult. Mom, with her meagre earnings, had to take care of both of us. I was also helped by some sponsorships through the Mercy Home. Mom ensured that I would be able to stand on my own feet in the future. She got me married to Alistair Shankar, also an orphan, and we are blessed with a son, Aquila Roy.” After marriage Donata pursued a Master’s in Public Administration and later obtained a Commonwealth scholarship for a Masters in Sustainable Development at Staffordshire University, UK.  She also completed an MBA in Finance.

Donata worked as secretary, software programmer and instructor, as well as social worker,   In 1999 she joined HEKS, a Switzerland-based organization as part of the Administrative Staff.  She says with a sense of satisfaction, “Interested in bettering myself, I decided to participate in programmes and activities, especially as a trainer, and also upgrade my qualifications.  Now, I have been promoted and am in the development sector, being a second line leader in the organization in India.  I have been appreciated for my commitment and contribution to the organization and have participated in training programmes organized in India and abroad.”

Did you ever feel that being dark is not beautiful? Did that ever come in the way of your progress?  “Yes.  I always had this inferiority complex, but would hide my feelings. People used to ridicule me, since Mom was fair and pretty and I was dark. I never understood and used to ask myself: Why am I dark?  Once someone teased me saying that if I washed my face with Surf I would become fair. I sincerely followed it, not realizing that it was just a cruel prank.”

“Yes my complexion was a major problem in getting a job.  After the secretarial course, when I went for interviews, most places did not consider me because of my colour.  Even in the current job I was not treated with respect by many when I joined; they looked down on me. But my commitment and hard work has earned me this status and much respect.”

How colour-conscious we are in India!  Today, Donata realises that beauty is only skin deep and she is a product of great love showered by a caring beautiful Mom, and sheer hard work. Knowing always that she was adopted and letting the world know it was never a deterrent. Donna says with the utmost simplicity, “I and happy. God has blessed me with a loving Mom, wonderful SMMI Sisters, a supporting husband and a loving son.”


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Ordetta Mendoza

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People We Forget

Once Upon a Time


Julie’s story shows what a huge difference caring people make—whether it be a teacher taking interest in a poor student, or a college or school admitting first generation learners and financing their studies.

Once upon a time… I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting an eighteen-year-old young woman who was helping at a village dispensary. This was my first encounter with Julie Arokiamary, daughter of Mopur Martin, a farmer from K.K.Pudur, a hamlet in Chengalpat District,  Tamil Nadu. I observed Julie at work in the dispensary, at prayer time in the chapel and also helping around in the convent. She had completed her “Plus Two” examination with good marks and was working to contribute towards the family’s meagre income. Her smartness prompted me to enquire about her background. I was saddened to hear that she had to work and not continue her education, while here I was, teaching young women of the same age…


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People We Forget

No Turning Back!


The story of a humble watchman who, in the midst of poverty and illness,  found peace in praying to Jesus.

Nagaraj, the security guard at a local nursing home, was a weaver at the erstwhile Binny and Co., a company set up in the 19th century by John Binny, which was later amalgamated with the Bangalore Mills and came to be known as the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills. When the company shut shop due to flooding of its premises in 1996 followed by a lock out declared in 1997, Nagaraj found himself without a job. He worked at sundry jobs, including that of a porter and painter.  Soon after, he and members of his family were plagued with illness one after another. Their finances plummeted. Starvation looked him in the eye. During these trying times he visited several temples and sought the help of many people, but to no avail.

The Votive Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was on his route to work. One day, Nagaraj hesitantly stepped into the portals of this Church and cried to the Lord, seeking His intervention in solving the desperate situation his family was in. On leaving the Church, he realised that his mind was at peace and his sense of despair had left him. He said: “The Lord Jesus not only took away our troubles and healed us of our ailments. Nothing unfortunate has happened to us since that fateful day when I visited the Church for the first time.”

By religion, Nagaraj is a Hindu, not a Christian. But any of us can learn from his godliness and the very devout way he attends Mass. Rain or sunshine, Nagaraj has been attending the Eucharistic celebration every morning at the Votive Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the last five years. There are days when the city faces bad weather—including torrential rain and flooding—with the result that very few people turn up for Mass. Even on such days, Nagaraj’s six-foot frame can be seen in one of the pews at the rear of the Church. Hearing of his Church visits, his wife started going to a Church close to their home and more recently has become a member of the Pentecostal Church.  I jokingly asked him, “When do you take a day off from Mass?” Pat came the reply, “Only when the church is on leave!”

What amazes me is his attentiveness during Mass, whether standing or kneeling, day after day. He is there before most daily Mass-goers come in and begins his exit as soon as the distribution of Holy Communion starts. He walks up to the Crucifix at the back of the church and reverently prays before it, placing his hands on the Crucifix and then on himself—eyes, ears, and the rest of the body—and finally making a deep bow before leaving the church.

Since he leaves before the Mass is over, he does not interact with anyone in the parish, nor can I remember anyone inquiring about him. I asked him if he knew anyone in the parish. He replied: “Only one or two doctors who practise at the Nursing home where I work and a few other people who come to the nursing home recognise me. I am not in uniform, you see! After Mass I get to the nursing home, change into uniform and am at my post on time. I believe in being punctual. I also try to help everyone who comes to the nursing home, be it getting a parking space or giving a helping hand to an elderly patient.”

Nagaraj has learnt all the prayers and hymns and participates in the Eucharistic celebration like any devout Catholic. Says he: “Today, my life is only around Jesus. I am thinking of receiving Baptism and becoming a Catholic.”  He is blessed with two sons, both of whom remain unmarried because of their poverty, but Nagaraj has tremendous faith in the Lord. He says, “Jesus will provide; I am not worried about our situation”.

He also said to me, “I will continue to come to Church, pray and trust in the Lord Jesus as long as I live… No turning back, no turning back!”

Ordetta Mendoza

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People We Forget

Poor, Dignified and Faithful

April 14

The story of Prabhu Das and the commitment he brings to his profession of garbage-collection.

My father once made a comment about my working on government holidays. He added that he knew one other person who did it.  I asked him, “Who?” To my surprise, he told me it was Mr. Das, the man who collects the garbage in our locality. I got my chance a few days later—on a government holiday!—to speak to Mr. Das.  “It’s a holiday today, Das. Why have you come to collect the garbage?” His reply: “No, Amma, my only holidays are Sundays, Christmas, Good Friday and Easter. There is no holiday for throwing out the garbage, and my duty is to collect it.”

I was astounded at the duty-consciousness of the person: Mr. N. Prabhu Das, a conservancy worker in the Corporation of Chennai. He has been at the same job from the age of nineteen, and no one has ever considered him for a promotion. He said: “In the old days, we used wooden push carts to collect the garbage. Many of them were broken or leaky. The waste consisted of decayed food, broken glass, nails, footwear. Today, it is more plastic bags, aluminium foil covers, thermocol and much recyclable waste. The load is light, but the burden of disposing the garbage is getting heavier, Amma.”

I asked him about his life and work.

“I come to work every morning at 6 am, to the same location. I travel the same streets. I complete my work by 1.30 pm. I sign the register, and leave. It takes me an hour to come from home in the morning and another hour to get back home. I have seen the area grow from a lower middle class locality with thatched homes to a posh residential one”

“How do you feel about your work?”

“God gave me a job.” He is aware of the mechanisation and privatisation that have taken place, and grateful that he did not lose his job. “We will always be needed. Way back, when I joined, there were not many cars, bikes and not much garbage. Today, everything has increased a hundredfold. I find it difficult sometimes to make my way through the traffic. That is why I begin my day early and make sure the roads are clean early in the morning itself.”

Curiosity got the better of me. I asked him if he had ever thought of being anything else other than a conservancy worker. “No, Amma, I have not thought of anything more. I know that some people look down on me, since I am doing a menial job, but it does not worry me. What matters is that I can take home my pay and look after my family.”

Mr. Das has been at this job for the last forty years and is due to retire next year. He has not availed of any Medical Leave or Earned Leave. He hopes to encash the Earned Leave at the time of retirement. Of the twelve days of Casual Leave permitted per year, he has taken only seven days a year. He said: “If I am on leave on any day, I ask a colleague of mine to take my place and complete the work. Till today, there have been no complaints against me or my work.”

One difficulty he faces is this:

“I ask the residents to separate their garbage, but most of them do not do it; so, I do it. It takes time!  I also ask them to place the garbage in a container within their premises and not on the roadside. Only recently I started using gloves. Most of the residents are educated, but they do not care about us or about how they dispose of their garbage.”

He says, sadly, that most of the residents do not even give him a cursory glance or say a word of thanks.

Das belongs to the Pentecostal Church. He studied up to class V and did odd jobs as a boy before taking up his present work. His wife works as a casual labourer. He has three sons, two of whom are married.

The dignity, sincerity and dedication with which Mr Prabhu Das does his hard and essential work—which many see as low and menial—truly inspires me. Living in houses or flats, or driving down our roads, we hardly give a thought to the people who keep our homes, roads and cities clean, do we?

Dr. Ms. Ordetta Mendoza, former Head, Post Graduate Department of Bioinformatics, Stella Maris College, (Autonomous), Chennai, is an Associate of the Congregation of the Franciscan Servants of Mary (FSM). She conducts workshops on College Autonomy, Assessment and Accreditation, Online and e-learning, as well as Mentoring Students. She is involved in her parish and in reaching out to the needy.

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