Mother Indrani’s radiance known around the world

Mother Indrani with Swami Bhajanananda of the Pranav Ashram of Toronto (left) and Swami Devpriyananda of New York. (Photo by Ramesh Ramkalawan)

Mother Indrani with Swami Bhajanananda of the Pranav Ashram of Toronto (left) and Swami Devpriyananda of New York. (Photo by Ramesh Ramkalawan)

Scouring the populace of the West Indian community, you will find that while gargantuan in mass it is quite intimate in fellowship. Such is the nature of Mrs. Indrani Gayadeen’s impact.

Mother Indrani, as she is better known, is a veteran humanitarian equipped with compelling tales ranging from hospitals in Guyana to villages in India. If granted the opportunity to sit with her, she will take you on an unhurried train ride across India and invite you to her home-away-from-home in Jamshedpur. She could illuminate the corners of Red Square, Russia or tell you a few secrets of Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana’s current president. No walls can hold her bounteous knowledge which was gained through her extensive travels around the world.

Born in Guyana, Mrs. Gayadeen moved to London, England to pursue her studies in Law. There she met her late husband, Mr. Donald Gayadeen—a student dentist who was on the brink of creating his own lasting impression on endless patients and many of the pillars in the East and West Indian communities within which he practised. Together, the couple travelled to and established homes in Guyana, Trinidad, India and lastly Canada—raising four children and five grandchildren along the way.

I was first acquainted with Mother Indrani at a Sunday service at the Vishnu Mandir in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Her radiance evoked a once striking beauty which has rounded many corners and evolved into a gentle smile and glowing eyes. She offered her arms, initiating a warm embrace—one that clearly would comfort the weak and give hope to the ill-fated. Admitting she regularly visited the mandir on weekdays to avoid the crowds, she seemed comforted by the absence of devotees who were presumably busy with long-weekend events.

Within minutes of knowing her, you will begin to learn of the great impact and the tremendous achievements she has made throughout her 77 years of existence. Over 40 years ago, on a visit to Jamshedpur, India, Mother Indrani first learned of the anguish of those enduring the harsh reality of living with leprosy.

As suggested by Brahmanandaji, formerly a swami at the Cove and John Ashram in Guyana, Mother Indrani traveled to Bihar, India where she was told she would find a large band of lepers who were desperately in need of aid. Their unsatisfactory living conditions and great neglect impacted on Mother Indrani who was then determined to provide the long-term help they evidently required.

“When the people know that the kids are born with leprosy they don’t keep them because it’s a stain on the family,” Mother Indrani solemnly details. “So what they will do is send them away—down in villages or different towns—and throw the kid to end it all and the kid would eventually die.”

After leaving India, with images of the lepers branded in her conscience, Mother Indrani made the decision to begin financing long-term projects which will provide hospital care, homes, education and the opportunity for each leprosy patient to make a positive contribution to their society.

Initially, she financed the erection of the Jamshedpur Leprosy Control and Welfare Service in union with Swami Jnanatmanandaji Maharaj and the Bharat Sevashram Sangha—a “spiritual brotherhood of monks and selfless workers devoted to the service of humanity” as described in their 2005 Annual Report. One of the initial tasks was to encourage the families of leprosy patients to relinquish their care to the hospital as opposed to turning away from their family members’ unfortunate condition as they previously did. Now 43 year later, she is credited with establishing three hospitals and providing means to education for thousands of lepers.

“Leprosy is curable but the Hindus believe that what they do in the last world, they suffer for in this one, so they don’t want to take their medicine” explained Mother Indrani. “I always say no medicine, no food.” The patients at her hospital have come a long way from their nomadic lifestyle as discounted members of society—if considered members at all. They’ve learned to follow the counsel of the many doctors who volunteer their time to provide proper care and better options for them.

According to Swami Bhajananandaji of the Pranav Ashram in Toronto, Mother Indrani’s donation and her alliance with the Sevashram Sangha provided the lepers with their own water supply, electricity and cottages, allowing them to become self-sufficient through gardening, weaving and community work. “That gave them hope and reminded them that they are useful human beings,” adds Swamiji, who is in his 48th year with the Sevashram Sangha organization. “Through her work the Swamiji was able to get the Indian government to come in and recognize what this non-governmental organization was doing.” The State Bank of India, World Health Organization and other charitable organizations have begun to offer financial assistance to Mother Indrani’s crusade against leprosy.

On why she chose to help lepers, Mother Indrani pronounced, “I thought the people that needed my help most was the lepers in India. I just felt that they are humanly like us.” While she may be met with raised eyebrows from the Guyanese community for opting to contribute to India rather than her country of origin, she explains “I don’t know of any village in Guyana where they starve to death. We don’t have any village that I know of. They can always go and pick a coconut or some rice or throw and get some fish. Nobody dies of starvation. When you tell me the name of the place and where you go then I’ll go and see and then I’ll help.”’

She was no stranger to Mother Teresa with whom she collaborated during her time in India. Following Mother Teresa’s death, gone were the outlets that provided the monetary aid required to treat the patients in her leprosy hospital. Her patients, street bound and uncared for, were admitted into Mother Indrani’s hospital and once again given the resources they were undeservingly denied.

Often you would find her rubbing elbows with the elites of Bollywood or communing around a pot of tea with Swamis of all sects. Her charitable efforts have allotted her a legion of supporters each of whom offers great admiration for her selfless contributions. In spite of this, Mother Indrani’s contributions are little known. “I personally think when you do something you don’t want the world to know. Like, I feel I am very blessed in my own way, in every sense of the word. I’ve had the best husband in the world, my kids are beautiful, they all have their professions and they are doing well. I am not a millionaire but I’ve got enough money to help and I feel that it’s my duty. I can’t take it with me when I die.”

Her financial and social contributions are “tremendous, indescribable”, says Swami Bhajanananda. “She’s concerned more for [others] than she’s concerned for herself. She always likes to engage, likes to see people move up, and likes to see people make improvement. She has given to every organization that she has known.” A humanitarian in his own right, Swami Bhajanananda has known Mother Indrani for 22 years and assisted her in her projects in India. His religious leadership and the support of the members of the Pranav Ashram are credited with sponsoring dozens of school children in India and Guyana and providing a haven from a slum home made of asbestos sheets to a family of four in India.

Currently Mother Indrani is working in partnership with Dr. Budhendra Doobay of the Vishnu Mandir to construct a senior’s home for its members in which the elderly will be able to reside within a familiar community and participate in leisurely activities without being a burden on their family members. The institution will open with the capacity to provide a home to 40 senior citizens with hopes of extension for the future.

I asked Mother Indrani if granted the resource and opportunity to stretch her generous hand to any part of this world, where she would choose. “Africa!” she responded, her face lit up and her eyes glowed with enthusiasm.

Her legacy is an unfinished canvas and Mother Indrani is a beautiful shade of blue ready to leave a silent but lasting impression on the world which she has enhanced with her unbounded humanity.


Indo-Caribbean World, August 12, 2009


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