India Today Offtrack
July 31, 2000


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Tunes that Count

A schoolgirl assists ailing children by raising funds through her singing

By N.K.Singh

India Today issue dated July 31, 2000For many people eight-year-old Palak Munchal of Indore is an angel. She looks like one, all right -- cherubic face, curly hair and a beatific smile. But more than her appearance it is her melodious voice -- and her heart -- that endears her to these people. A Class IV student, Palak is a member of Kalyanji Anandji Little Star, an ensemble of young singers. Like any talented child, Palak loves the attention showered on her. She also knows how to use her popularity to help other children.

Palak has helped arrange for the surgery of eight children till nowChildren like six-year-old Pooja, who had a hole in her heart and weighed just 10 kg. When she was a month-and-a-half old doctors informed her father Amar Singh, a farm labourer then earning Rs 50 a day, about her ailment. Corrective surgery would cost Rs 40,000. With two other children at home, Singh could not afford it. "We were just counting days," he says. That was till Palak raised money for the surgery, performed in May this year. Says a grateful Singh: "My daughter would have died but for Palak's help."

Palak, who comes from a middle-class family, started singing at school functions when she was just four. The elder of two siblings (her five-year-old brother Palash also performs at her shows) she soon started showing promise beyond her years. Palak started using her talent to help others last year, when she raised Rs 25,000 for the Kargil martyrs from Indore's shopkeepers. Next her parents Rajkumar and Amita helped her organise a charity show for Orissa's cyclone victims which mopped up Rs 19,000.

It was around this time that the teachers of Nidhi Vinay Mandir in Indore decided to approach Palak for organising a charity show to raise funds for one of their pupils, five-year-old Lokesh who was suffering from a congenital heart defect. His father Radheshyam Kuril worked as a helper at a footwear shop and earned Rs 60 per day and with four mouths to feed, couldn't afford the surgery costing Rs 80,000. Palak had a charity show, her first for a child, in March this year and raised Rs 51,000. The event was publicised by the media, and when doctors of the Manipal Heart Foundation (MHF) in distant Bangalore heard about the case, they offered to operate on Lokesh for free.

MHF's large-heartedness saved Palak Rs 40,000. She offered the money to Lokesh's family, but they requested that it be used to help other children requiring heart surgery. Palak's parents advertised for applicants in local newspapers and were inundated with requests. They finally decided to chose only children from disadvantaged families who were below 11 years of age. They soon had 33 children on their list, with ages ranging from seven months to 10 years.

Each operation costs around Rs 80,000, despite the concession extended by the T. Choithram Hospital in Indore. But Palak is unfazed. "I am sure I can raise enough funds for all of them," she says. She started with a series of shows in Indore where she performed patriotic and Hindi film songs and collected Rs 2.25 lakh, enabling five children to undergo surgery at Bangalore and Indore. MHF offered to halve its fee for children below 11. Dr Dhiraj Gandhi, an Indore surgeon, has chosen to waive his fee for cases brought in by Palak at the T. Choithram Hospital.

The beneficiaries of Palak's efforts are children like Gaurav, a seven-year-old with a widowed mother, and Abhishek, a three-and-a-half-year-old-boy who couldn't even sit up till he was operated upon. Those now in the queue are children like Roshni, the three-year-old daughter of an Indore tailor, Anil Kale. Kale needs Rs 90,000 for his daughter's surgery. He read about Palak's offer in a local daily and approached her. Says Kale: "My daughter has been suffering since she was six months old. Palak is our only hope now."

What motivates Palak? She shrugs, unnaturally grave for an eight-year-old: "I just want to help them. They too have a right to live." To find the real answer one perhaps has to accompany Palak on her visits to hospitals and slums, and see the affection her "wards" have for her. That kind of warmth is reward enough for any person, or child.




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