Carrying Forward A Vision
He may have died at the tender age of 22 but the Ashwin Maharaj Foundation takes forward his legacy of helping the underprivilegedBy Anila Mathew
Ashwin Maharaj Ramasubramaniam was a young, aspiring lawyer passionate about giving a voice to the oppressed and helping those in need. However, he could not survive acute myeloid leukemia and died fighting the disease, at the age of 22. Even the dreaded C-word didn’t deter him from finding ways to make the world a better place as he kept looking for effective ways to help underprivileged patients in their struggle for survival. Fulfilling his vision is the Chennai-based Ashwin Maharaj Foundation managed by his parents, Dr. D Ramasubramaniam and R Manonmani. The foundation focuses on issues that Ashwin held close to his heart, like increasing awareness of stem cell transplants and promoting the use of music therapy in rehabilitation of cancer patients. The foundation also supplies protein powder supplements to patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Ashwin’s personal experiences and aspirations played a key role in determining the NGO’s principal guidelines. For instance, it was when Ashwin was being treated in California for AML that he realized the importance of stem cell donation. Keeping in mind his interests, the foundation has been instrumental in increasing the number of registered bone marrow donors in India.
Thanks to its dedicated work, about 1,000 new donors have been added to the bone marrow registry in India. While undergoing chemotherapy, Ashwin was able to cope better with the pain and also to sleep well whenever he listened to music. Patients undergoing therapy along with Ashwin were also soothed by the Indian music of A R Rahman and Ilayaraja. This was the rationale behind starting music therapy programmes for cancer patients in hospitals across India. Initially, the hospitals were skeptical about the sessions, but the appreciation from patients has been greatly encouraging. This has also helped change the mindset of hospital administrations towards music therapy.
Founded in 2014, the NGO that works out of Mumbai strives to raise awareness about the terminal illness that can be cured if detected at the right time. Statistics show that 33 per cent cases of cancer in metropolitan cities occur in the breast.
Music enjoyed by individuals is performed by student volunteers who are awarded certificates for participating in the therapy sessions. There are more than 900 student volunteers who, in turn, find the experience uplifting and heartening. The service is also part of the National Service Scheme now. Affirms Sara Gagi, an undergraduate student at Delhi University, “I had always wanted to do something for cancer patients. I felt so blessed to have been selected for the music therapy programme at AIIMS. When I sing and I see the patients smile, or when children try to join in by dancing on the beds, I feel very happy. It is a very special feeling.”
Nivedhitha Gunashekharan, a student volunteer at Women’s Christian College, Chennai, says, “The joy of sharing love in every form is the most invaluable feeling in the world. Not a day during my volunteering time have I witnessed the music session wind up without singers receiving a personal heartfelt thanks from the patients whose happiness is more for the love they receive through music. The Ashwin Maharaj Foundation is giving us student volunteers a chance to realize the worth of spreading love.”
The foundation has been supplying protein powders to help meet the nutritional requirements of patients who cannot digest very heavy meals but need a regular intake of protein to help in recovery. The recipe of the powder was provided by Dr. V Shanta, a prominent oncologist and chairperson of Adyar Cancer Institute, Chennai. The protein powder is given to underprivileged patients free of cost. Corporates and business establishments contribute generously as part of their CSR initiatives towards the production and distribution of the supplement. The nutritional supplement is distributed in treatment centers such as in GCRI, Ahmedabad, MNJ Institute of Oncology and Regional Cancer Centre in Hyderabad, Kidwai Institute of Oncology in Bengaluru, Adyar Cancer Institute and Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital in Chennai, Rajaji Government Hospital in Madurai, JIPMER in Pondicherry, Coimbatore Medical College Hospital, and LNJPN Hospital in New Delhi. Patients from underprivileged backgrounds are provided the nutrition they require while coping with the rigors and side effects of treatment like nausea and other related issues.
Patients who were initially reluctant to come out and listen to music underwent a positive transformation when they started enjoying the sessions. AIIMS Delhi is now conducting research into the role of music in treatment.“We would be able to expand or reach out to more people in more places, only if we get more support from other corporates,” says Manomani.
“I Had Always Wanted To Do Something For Cancer Patients. I Felt So Blessed To Have Been Selected For The Music Therapy Programme At Aiims. When I Sing And I See The Patients Smile, Or When Children Try To Join In By Dancing On The Beds, I Feel Very Happy.”Sara Gagi, Undergraduate student, Delhi University