If he’s not riding the auto, you will most likely find Sreekanth and his ‘Hello Buddy’ auto at the stand near Aluva Karothukuzhi Hospital. From long distance to airport rides, this auto is famous and one of the favourites for the people of Aluva, a suburb of Kochi, Kerala.
Sreekanth’s Hello Buddy auto provides its users with phone charging facilities, free Wif-Fi, reverse cameras and even newspapers in English, Malayalam and Tamil. Incidentally, it is also India’s first ISO certified auto.
“I wanted my auto to stand out from the rest and moreover, I wanted to make the commute of the passengers more comfortable,” Sreekanth explains. Sreekanth has also installed car seats in the auto to provide a luxurious experience for his passengers.
For Sreekanth, the primary motivation behind giving his auto an upgrade was to offer maximum comfort to the injured and the sick who hitch a ride with him from the hospital back to their homes. “I’ve mainly installed this because my auto was always parked outside the Aluva hospital. When people with injuries or difficulty in walking come out, I felt bad that they had to travel in a wobbly auto,” explains the 41-year-old who, incidentally, donates Rs. 5000 from his monthly income to the Aluva general hospital for those who can’t afford treatment.
“I also give free rides in my auto to cancer and dialysis patients, ” adds the philanthropist.
It’s only been a year since he bought the auto but for Sreekanth, who has 60 per cent paralysis in his spine and legs, ‘Hello Buddy’ is an unexpected turning point in his life.
The Accident that Changed Everything
After graduating from ITI, Sreekanth was on the lookout for a job. But one day on his way home, he lost balance of his scooter and fell onto the road. “I would have recovered from that accident but some of the medicines I took to relieve the pain led to ‘ankylosing spondylitis’ which leads to a long term inflammation of the spine and legs. I was left 60 per cent paralysed,” shares Sreekanth.
But soon after the accident, Sreekanth got a job as a clerk at a private Homoeopathic Clinic in Chottanikara. Although the clinic was quite far from home, Sreekanth would bear the physical pain and take the 40-minute ride to and from his office daily.
But after a few months of constant travelling, he was struck with oedema in his legs.
“I completely lost the ability to move. Then, after multiple treatments and a hip replacement surgery, the sensation in my legs revived. It took almost a year to recover but during this period I lost my job,” he explains.
It so happened that the clinic where he worked had been taken over by the government during that period and most of the employees, including Sreekanth, were relieved from their jobs
“This led to a court case and the next few months went into multiple court visits to get our jobs back. Unfortunately, everyone except me got their jobs since I was paralysed. At that point, whatever faith I had in myself also left me,” he says.
Ever resilient, Sreekanth decided to take over the reins of his life again. “After a few weeks, I decided that I couldn’t just sit around feeling bad about myself. I had to find myself a new job,” he adds. Supporting him through it all were his parents, Ananth Naik, a retired superintendent of the Public Services Department and his mother, Shyamala Devi retired Assistant Controller of the agricultural university.
Making a Comeback with ‘Hello Buddy’ Auto
“I kept on trying for jobs and even worked at stores for a long time. Nothing seemed to work out, that’s when my family and friends suggested the idea of buying an auto. And this is how I finally I found my calling – ‘Hello Buddy’. This auto has given me the will to live and I’m completely happy with it,” he explains.
Today, Sreekanth has a stable income through his auto and is the owner of the first ISO certified auto in the country but he still remembers to do his part in helping the society.
“I’ve been through the same difficulties of trying to find money and I’ve had many people support me when I was struggling and now it’s my time to help others,” he concludes.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)