The day started with a phone to Miss Patrick Leelavathi, the subject of my profile. After some initial hesitation, she called me over to her school for deaf children at around 4pm. The school had ended for the day when I reached; a few stragglers loitered in the playgrounds, communicating in sign language. Children with hearing impairment have a way of speaking with a sharp rise, almost like a squeal that was unsettling at first. But their bright smiles and animated gestures put me at ease. I wandered around the campus, clicking pictures – a tad nervous and out of place amid the differently abled kids.
Miss Leelavathi’s smile was the warmest I have encountered in Chennai. Her palms were evenly wrinkled for her age – she is turning 80 – but her handshake was firm. She welcomed me into her office and regaled me with stories of her life and her journey. I was at once humbled, awed, surprised, saddened and bewildered. Her story could make an epic film, or a best-selling novel – a life of selfless dedication to the underdogs of society – and yet here she was, in her tiny office decorated with floral curtains through with the waning afternoon sun melted in. The most touching moment was when she showed me a shiny, granular stone she picked up on the beaches on the Northern Sea on her trip to Europe.
When I asked her about how she feels looking back at her life of philanthropy and sacrifice, she only had a humble smile to react with. “There’s still a lot more I want to do,” she said.
After the interview, I spent some time with the residential pupils. They let me in into their gang and I end up playing cricket with the kids. I realized I have lost all my batting skills. As the time neared for me to take leave, Miss Leelavathi came to see me off till the gate.
The children posed for a selfie as I flicked my camera open – beaming happily with all the hopeful, joyous faces. The day’s work left me exhausted but also gave me a memorable afternoon to cherish. Such is the joy of being a journalist.