Meet 83-year-old M C Pankaja, co-founder of Bangalore’s oldest counselling centre and has devoted her life to making psychological help accessible to thousands of people.
At the age of 83, with a spinal cord that has degenerated to cause a hunch, M C Pankaja still walks into her office every day so as to not miss a day of work. She reaches Prasanna Counselling Centre in Bangalore by 6 pm, five days a week, and has been doing so for the past 36 years! It’s doubtful if there is another counsellor as experienced as her in all of Bangalore and she is almost certainly the only octogenarian counsellor in the country.
Pankaja needs her assistant to hold her hands and walk her to her office room. Her patients see this and sometimes wonder how she does her work…but the moment she settles down in her chair, she gives them a beaming smile! It is clear that she values her work and looks forward to helping those who come to see her.
Pankaja can be credited with making Prasanna Counselling Centre one of the most trusted and sought after counselling centres in Bangalore under her leadership since 1980. The Centre was founded by Late Ajith Kumar, under the aegis of Hindu Seva Pratishtana. Ajith Kumar’s vision was to make psychological help accessible for all, rich or poor, for free. He was moved by the fact that a large number of people suffered from psychological problems but did not have access to relief. Mental health issues were mostly ignored in the country and many people lived in distress. Ajith Kumar wanted to change this scenario.
When Ajith Kumar was looking for people to join his mission, one of the first persons he approached was Pankaja. The dedicated lady was then working as a suicide prevention counsellor at Victoria Hospital. In her 12 year of service in this field she had saved numerous lives. Ajith Kumar knew Pankaja would be the best person to head Prasanna Counselling Centre, and she indeed proved him right.
The Centre has brought together expert counsellors and psychiatrists under one roof.
Patients from all over Karnataka come to the Centre seeking help for various problems – mental illness, marital issues, learning disabilities in children, alcoholism, and more. No advertisements are issued and no marketing initiatives launched. Word of mouth brings people here. Dr. Shankar, a psychiatrist at Victoria Memorial Hospital who volunteers at the Centre, says, “One of the best aspects of the Centre is that case follow-up is excellent here. People come back to Prasanna committedly for follow-up counselling and medical guidance. Pankaja ma’am and everyone at the Centre have made this a place where patients feel comfortable and accepted.”
The Center’s training courses in counselling are also very popular because they provide great exposure to the students who take them. Nandini, a counsellor trained at the Centre, says “I came here seeking help to overcome my depression after my father passed away. The Centre gave me so much love and guidance that I am completely transformed today. Earlier, I was a housewife and didn’t want to step outside my small circle in life. After coming here, I overcame my depression, took up training to become a counsellor, and I also started exploring myself beyond my limited circle. Today, I am a counsellor and a yoga teacher.”
The philosophy of the Centre is service and not money. The doctors and counsellors who offer their time here are all volunteers. Pankaja says, “Many patients are awed that the Centre does not charge any fees. We keep a donation box where people can drop money if they wish to. We take a very nominal fee of Rs 1,000 from the students who enrol for our counselling courses. Many students trained by us come back here as counsellors and volunteer their time. For us, it is about bringing solace to people and we do it by accepting them, having open conversations and, importantly, by adding some humour and laughter to their lives.”
If you ever meet Pankaja, you’ll know what it means to have a true calling and how to live your life to the fullest.
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