Decades after inspiring a best-selling novel that introduced readers into slums close to Kolkata, 86-year-old ascetic Gaston Dayanand continues to be working for India’s poorest.
His life serving to individuals within the mega-slums of Pilkhana fashioned the plot of Dominique Lapierre’s 1985 e book “The City of Joy”, which was later was a Patrick Swayze film.
Born in 1937 to a Swiss working-class household in Geneva, Brother Gaston mentioned he remembered deciding at six years of age to dedicate his life “to Christ and the poor”.
“I by no means wished to be a priest,” the brother of the Prado congregation informed AFP on the Inter-Religious Center of Development (ICOD), an NGO he co-founded in Gohalopata, a village 75 kilometres (45 miles) southwest of Kolkata.
“The church would by no means have let me dwell in a slum with the poor, however my life was about sharing with the poorest.”
A educated nurse, Brother Gaston arrived in India in 1972 to work with a French priest in a small self-help centre in Pilkhana.
“It was the largest slum in India on the time, they mentioned on this planet!”
Having arrived on a tuk-tuk, he shocked the native residents by coming into on foot.
“I did not need to enter a spot the place there are such a lot of poor individuals, on a rickshaw, like a wealthy particular person,” he mentioned.
“I went to locations the place there have been no docs, no non-governmental organisations, no Christians. That is to say, locations that have been utterly deserted.”
‘Chicago on the Ganges’
One day in 1981, Brother Gaston mentioned he acquired a go to from Dominique Lapierre, who was “despatched by Mother Teresa”.
The well-known French creator, who wished to put in writing a novel “in regards to the poor”, satisfied the ascetic of his sincerity.
The two males grew to become pals.
Lapierre, who died final December, described Brother Gaston as “one of many ‘Lights of the World’ whose epic of affection and sharing I had the honour of recounting in my e book ‘The City of Joy’.”
Translated all through the world, Lapierre’s novel, printed in 1985, bought a number of million copies.
“He financed all my organisations at a price of $3 million a 12 months, nearly all his royalties, for nearly 30 years,” Brother Gaston mentioned.
But the movie adaptation of the novel, wherein Swayze performs a fictional physician, displeased him: “I frankly hated this movie. ‘The City of Joy’ has turn out to be ‘Chicago on the Ganges’.”
Surrounded by leprosy
At the time of Lapierre’s go to, Mother Teresa was receiving drugs from all around the world.
She donated massive portions to the self-help centre, which Brother Gaston was ready to make use of.
He educated nurses and established a dispensary.
“I had the drugs, I did not want the rest,” he mentioned.
“We shortly had greater than 60,000 sufferers the primary 12 months, 100,000 the second. Three years later, we had a small hospital.”
As quickly as he arrived in India, he determined to undertake the nationality.
“It took 20 years, after all,” he mentioned.
Brother Gaston was born with the surname Grandjean.
In India, he selected the surname “Dayanand”, which means “blessed (ananda) of mercy (daya)”.
He labored for a very long time with Mother Teresa’s brothers caring for individuals affected by leprosy in Pilkhana.
“I stayed for 18 years, surrounded by 500 lepers, in a really small room,” he mentioned.
Abdul Wohab, a 74-year-old social employee, mentioned: “Gaston is a saint.”
‘A board to sleep on’
Now white-haired and confined to a wheelchair, Brother Gaston continues to be making an attempt to assist these in want within the northeastern province of West Bengal.
Of the 12 NGOs he based since shifting to India, six are nonetheless lively, together with the ICOD, which has taken in 81 individuals of all faiths, together with orphans and the aged, in addition to these affected by disabilities and psychological well being issues.
Brother Gaston mentioned he spends “three-quarters of (his) days meditating” on his mattress, dealing with Christ.
“I had by no means had the rest however a board to sleep on. Now I dwell like a bourgeois in an enormous mattress,” he mentioned.
“But it is not me who wished it,” he added with amusing.
“The worst half is that I settle for it.”
The ICOD’s co-founder and director, Mamata Gosh, nicknamed “Gopa”, watches over the person who taught her to be a nurse 25 years in the past.
“Before him, I did not know something,” the 43-year-old informed AFP.
“He is my religious father.”
Brother Gaston’s day begins at 5:00 am with three hours of prayer, in entrance of a replica of the Shroud of Turin overhanging an Aum, the image of Hinduism, in his tiny oratory adjoining his room.
Dressed all in white and barefoot, he sits in his electrical wheelchair and visits every of the residents of the thatched hamlet, then returns to his room within the late morning.
On his bedside desk sits a Bible, a crucifix, his glasses and an outdated laptop computer that he makes use of to keep up a correspondence along with his NGO’s donors.
“I’ll earn my bread till the final day of my life,” he mentioned.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV workers and is printed from a syndicated feed.)