The Sighted Come Together to Fund a Noble Cause in India: the Gift of Vision

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Organizers of the Sankara Eye Foundation fundraiser with the Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish (third from left) and to his left, Dr.Murali Krishnamurthy, founder of SEF, from California; and Drs. R.V. and Radha Ramani, founders of the Sankara Eye Care Institute in Coimbatore, India. Also shown, from left, Radhu Nednur, Pooja Gupta, Dr. Nik Nikam, Adwait Chawathe, Vinay Veeramachaneni and Shankar Perumaalla. Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: The emcee for the evening, the indefatigable Dr. Nik Nikam who has commandeered many an event (especially Dusserah Melas in Skeeter’s Stadium) and is the host of All India Radio, played on the emotions of the hall full of invited guests as the program started by showing slides of eye catching objects.

“What do you think of when you see this?” he asked of the image of a huge, oval lemon. People shouted out answers: juicy, smooth, yellow. “And this?” Nikam asked of the pretty pair of eyes of a woman. “Killer eyes, huh?” They murmured in assent. Then he played a game, asking two people to stand with their back to the screen and asking the audience to throw out clues for them to identify the projected image (a red tomato).

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The young girls who performed the musical entertainment for the evening along with CG Harish. The youngest performer, seven year-old Lasya Dhulipala is in the center.

Nikam made his point on the eyes being the gateway to vision and a comprehension of the world we live in, saying that 70 per cent of information came through this pathway. He then showed a picture of a blind girl, her corneas covered with a milky white layer blocking out her sight. He noted that 55 million people in India have partial or complete blindness, adding that some could be cured by simple cataract surgery which costs only $30 per eye in rural areas.

He turned the stage over to Akila Mamandur, a 14 year-old who sang the opening invocation Jai Shri Ganesh and then turned to sing Satyam Shivam Sundaram; followed by a song by 11 year-old Sneha Mukala and rounded out by 7 year-old Lasya Dhulipala (a contestant in the Indian Idol contest by the IACF two years ago) who sang Eh Malik Tere Bande Hum. All three girls sang with great range and strong control and continued on with other performers after dinner to entertain the guests who had come to the first ever Houston fundraiser for the Sankara Eye Foundation. Darshak Thakkar of Krishna Sounds provided the sound and AV system.

The chief guest for the evening was Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish who spoke of the importance of having trained optometrists and ophthalmologists do a round of their training and service in rural areas of India so that they could catch and treat eye diseases earlier. “The Sankara Eye Care Institute has created a benchmark for the treatment of eye disorders,” Harish said, applauding its work in pushing society to face this need.

In the audience of the fundraiser held at India House on Saturday, November 8 were the founders of the SECI, the husband and wife team of Drs. R.V. and Radha Ramani who started their first clinic in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu. They established the Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Medical Centre in 1977, later establishing it into a charitable Trust, Dr. Ramani has won many awards in India, including the Role Model of India award in 2000 from the President of India.

Ramani spoke about the work the Foundation performs in the nine community hospitals and two city hospitals located across India. A tenth hospital is planned for in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. He explained how the SEF plans to take free eye care to the doorsteps of the poor in the Vision 20/20 By the Year 2020 program that the SEF has currently undertaken. So far, the SEF has been able to provide the gift of sight to a million people.

The work of the SECI has received a boost by the efforts of the SEF which was founded in the US by Murali Krishnamurthy, an electronics engineer, lover of Carnatic music and founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Indian light musical group “Pallavi” which has performed in many events across California for the past 18 years. He was motivated by his uncle P. Balasubramaniam to start the Foundation with co-founders Sridhar and Ahmad Khushnood in 1998 and since then has led many fundraising efforts across the West Coast.

The local fundraiser was the first in Houston and was organized by Dr. Rajender Aparasu, a long-time Houston resident, but he could not attend at the last minute due to the unfortunate demise of his father in India, forcing him to rush to his funeral there. Pooja Gupta, a transplanted Californian, stepped in to help arrange and coordinate the event, which featured a buffet dinner catered by Mayuri restaurant and netted $10,000 for the Foundation.

The Sankara Eye Foundation can be found at