Written by Monali Bordoloi and published on 27 May 2021.
Surviving cancer gave him a second chance at life. Now, his mission is to transform other lives, by providing essential services. Meet Alag Natarajan—the Matka Man of Delhi!
Every morning, Alag fills drinking water in matkas (earthen pitchers or pots to store water) placed at various spots around Delhi. The philanthropist, who is raring to start a revolution of kindness, uses a modified vehicle to ferry the matkas around the capital. His aim is to make drinking water available to all. Apart from this, Alag volunteers with an orphanage and a cancer hospice. He provides free meals for the homeless in the Old Delhi area and ensures that there is dignity in death for the underprivileged.
ParentCircle talks to this social worker whose mission is to help those who are in need. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
Q. How did the name Matka Man of Delhi come about?
A: My daughter observed me filling drinking water in matkas and came up with this name. She said it was appropriate. Slowly, as the word spread, I came to be known as the Matka Man of Delhi.
Q. From battling cancer to helping people, tell us about your journey...
A: I have lived life in the fast lane. When you survive a disease like cancer, it makes you realize that death is certain what matters is how you choose to live your life. Yes, the disease made me pause and retrospect, indeed. Cancer changed my perspective towards life. When you come out successfully from a terminal disease, you develop a positive attitude towards everything.
I have always been inclined towards helping people. After I came back to Delhi from London, I was troubled by the apathy of the people around me. It was 2014. During hot summer days, I saw construction workers, security guards, rickshaw pullers and others toiling under the harsh sun. They could not afford packaged drinking water and had no other access to potable water. So, I started by providing water in matkas (as these pots keep the water cool). Thematkas were installed at various places so anyone could access them.
Q. What keeps you going?
A: I believe if you are sincere, you tend to do things wholeheartedly. Hence, I am sincere in my approach to life. My goal is to ensure that the poor never go thirsty. I have mentioned my contact details on the matka stands so that people can quickly reach out to me if the pots need refiling.
Q. Tell us about your other social initiatives...
A: I try to help people in whatever capacity I can. For instance, I have installed around 100 cycle pumps around South Delhi. This to help those who cycle to work and need air pumps to refill air in their cycle tires. I also distribute glow-in-the-dark stickers for riders as a safety measure when they ride after dark. At a few selected spots in my neighborhood, I provide refreshments like lassi and water for tired cyclists. I also keep free bicycle bells near the matka stalls for people to use.
On a daily basis, I distribute fruits and vegetables to the needy. To my delight, others have come forward to provide water through matkas and water coolers, in summers. I help them install their stands.
Q. Do you feel that welfare schemes do not reach those in need?
A: Let me give you an example. On one occasion, a young physically challenged man approached me for a wheelchair. Since I could afford it, I provided him with that. It pains me that those who require such support don't even know who to approach. The Government has many welfare schemes but there is no awareness. Today, poverty is widely prevalent. Most people lack basic amenities like clean drinking water and toilets. For that matter, even a decent burial is denied to the poorest of the poor.
Q. Is society appreciative of your work?
A: The genuine warmth I get from the people is priceless. In my neighborhood, some people were initially apprehensive about installing free water coolers. They feared it might lead to a rise in crime. I had to convince my neighbors that if you reach out to the common people, they will not harm you.
I will give you an example of the goodwill I share with the people around. I never lock my home, day or night. This is quite a feat in a crime-prone city like Delhi. But to date, there has been no theft or burglary.
Q. How do you plan to take your revolution of human kindness, forward?
A: I am a positive person. I aim to reach out to as many people as I can and help those in need. I would love to see positive change around me. And Panchsheel Park could be the starting point of that revolution. Apart from water coolers, I have also installed swings and play areas outside my home for children to play. Every night, I put up a lighting show outside my home for the children.
Q. How has your family reacted to your philanthropic activities?
A: My wife has been with me through the ups and downs of my life. Initially, she was a little scared when all kinds of people used to end up at our doorstep for drinking water or other needs. Over the years, she has felt the gratitude of the people I have helped. She fully supports my varied missions. My daughter, who lives abroad, is also very encouraging. In fact, she set up the website for the Matka Maninitiative!
Q. Who are your role models?
A: I have always looked up to Nelson Mandela for the way he led his life. When I was undergoing treatment for cancer in London, there was a woman caregiver who inspired me immensely with her loving and kind words. Her selfless dedication to work made her my role model.
What are your future plans?
A: I have noticed that security guards employed by housing societies and companies have awful working hours and living conditions. Most guards come from far-off places. They fear losing their jobs and so do not complain. I wish to improve their quality of living.
Q. Talking about cancer, do you believe in counseling and therapy for survivors?
A: Definitely. I would also like to focus on counseling for depression after remission. It would be great if we can create awareness about these issues through discussion.
Q. Any tips for today's parents?
A: There is a poem by Khalil Gibran that says, "They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you."
I followed that philosophy while raising my daughter. Today, she has turned out to be an amazing young woman, independent and genuine. I would like to advise today's parents to guide your children to be better people, but never impose your dreams on them.
Stories related to cancer are usually all about battling the disease and emerging victorious. But Matka Man Alag Natarajan is one of a kind. Not only has he faced a terminal illness with courage and bravery, but he has also dedicated his life to serving others. A special salute to this good Samaritan.