The virtue of compassion exists within us all. While most remain guarded about whom to bestow it with, often it comes along a person with a heart so large that he or she won’t even think twice before lending a helping hand to someone in need.
While philanthropy is a term that rhymes better with the elite sections of the society, some of the kindest acts come from those who have nothing to give and definitely not the resources to boast about it.
Such is the story of Ravi Katapady, a daily-wage labourer who collects money for underprivileged children in need of corrective surgery in the temple town of Udupi.
This he does by painting his body and donning different ‘Vesha’ during the grand celebration of Sri Krishna Janmashtami every year in the temple town.
The festival, which witnesses lakhs of devotees flocking to the town every year with religious fervour and gaiety, finds a lot of people attired in a vivid assortment of costumes—especially those of Sri Krishna and Huli Vesha.
Ravi, who is a mason by profession, also used to be part of this vibrantly dressed troupe, until he came across the story of a baby with a dysfunctional hand that quite literally drove the man to tears four years ago.
Upon enquiring with the parents, he found that Anvitha had lost functionality of her right hand at the time of her birth, due to negligence on the doctor’s part.
“Seeing a child as young as her being unable to use her own arm tore me apart. The parents told me that her hand could be fixed through surgery costing about ₹1.15 lakh, which was much beyond the limits of their financial ability. That’s when I thought I could do something,” Ravi told The Better India.
He offered to pay for the surgery through his costumed acts at the festival, which the little one’s parents gratefully agreed.
Conferring with his friend, who is an artist, on different costume ideas that would appeal to children, Ravi finally zeroed in on Faun, one of the characters that appeared in the film, Pan’s Labyrinth.
While his effort deserves applause of its own, his costumes are worthy of praise in themselves.
Such was the realistic element in his guise, which he managed to collect the entire amount required for baby Anvitha’s surgery.
The success of the initiative made him grateful to God that he could make a difference in a person’s life and decided that he would continue to don costumes if it could make lives of children better.
From Lizardman of The Amazing Spiderman to characters from Mummy Returns, Ravi went on to raise almost ₹8 lakhs in total, for eight different children suffering from varying ailments in 2015 and 2016, with people willing to donate from Mumbai and as far as Dubai.
Initially supported by a person, his team of helpers slowly grew to 15 and subsequently became 65 in three years.
Today, close to 80 individuals, all of whom are friends from his workplace and hangouts, support him in his humanitarian endeavour.
While only Ravi wears the costumes, his team helps in identifying children with immediate need of medical support in nearby areas.
Though costume play and dress-up sound all fun and enjoyment, it comes at a price.
Having put paint directly on his skin as part of the makeup, Ravi has suffered from severe burns over the years.
And it takes close to 20 hours to get done with the entire process, after which he has to further undergo toil that prevents him from even eating or drinking for three days.
This does not deter him from undertaking his mission.
This year, the crowd got to witness Ravi in a whole new avatar. Dressed as Krampus, a horned, anthropomorphic character from Austro-Bavarian folklore, he managed to raise ₹ 5.12 lakh that would fund surgeries for seven children.
The man, who was raised by daily-waged labour parents, expects nothing from children and the families he has helped except for their wellbeing.
“The satisfaction of seeing these kids living a better life is enough for me. My father, who is no more, once told me that if one feels content in what they do, they need not worry about what others say. This is what I always remember when I feel hesitant about asking others for money,” says Ravi.
The selflessness that Ravi displays is beyond appreciation. For those whom he has given a new lease of life, he is nothing less of a god, and for others, he is the local superhero.
(With inputs from Amulya B)