SAN JOSE, Calif. — India’s blindness challenge is huge, with an estimated 55 million people suffering from some form of visual handicap, but Sankara Eye Foundation is striving hard to bring those startling numbers down, one free eye surgery at a time.
To support the non-profit’s flagship mission of eradicating curable blindness in India, and also enjoy a night of music with Kumar Sanu and Sadhana Sargam, popular Bollywood singers from the ‘90s and early 2000s, hundreds of Indian American music fans filled the City National Civic here Dec. 17.
The electrifying musical extravaganza, opened by Indian singer Swagata Nag, offered a non-stop cavalcade of blockbuster songs that took every member in the hall back in time.
People started roaring at the sight of Kumar Sanu, who stirred up excitement in the arena when he stepped onto the stage singing one of his all-time hits, “Ek Sanam Chahiye Aashiqui Ke Kiye.” He followed that up by rendering more romantic ballads like “Tere Dar Par Sanam” and “Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaye,” leaving the crowds asking for more.
Kumar Sanu, a winner of five consecutive Filmfare Best Male Playback Singer awards, also holds the Guinness World Record for recording the maximum number of songs in a day, 28. Overwhelmed by the response, the prolific singer told the audience that he will try to squeeze in as many of his songs as possible at this concert. And he did. “Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen,” “Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jaana Sanam,” and “Pyaar Dewaana Hota Hai” were just some of his Bollywood hits that he regaled the fans with.
Kumar Sanu’s career, as a Bollywood playback singer, has spanned over two decades. And to the audiences’ collective delight, he went on to perform a medley of his greatest hits that are still stuck in listeners’ heads.
The singer also shared personal anecdotes from his illustrious music career with the fans, and intertwined those with a healthy dose of irreverent humor, eliciting several chuckles during his time on stage.
The audiences’ passion at the high-spirited concert, of which Balaji Entertainment was the national promoter, was palpable from the get-go; singing along to every song, clapping, cheering, whistling and foot stomping. In fact, many were seen humming the tunes well after the concert came to a finish.
All eyes were naturally drawn to National Award-winning singer Sadhana Sargam, who brought a new level of excitement when she opened her act with the catchy song, “Neele Neele Ambar Par.” The celebrated singer, who has lent her voice to reigning Bollywood actresses since the ‘80s, went on to deliver some of her other hummable melodies like “Chupke Se” from the 2002 drama, “Saathiya,” “Maahi Ve” from “Kal Ho Na Ho,” and “Saath Samundar Par” from “Vishwatma.”
Benefit concerts like these not only help raise vital funds for the philanthropic organization but also raise awareness for the cause. Murali Krishnamurthy, founder and SEF executive chairman, through a moving audio-video slideshow, highlighted the work SEF was engaged in. He also narrated the tale of a 42-year-old woman in Karnataka, whose life came back on track following a corneal transplant at one of SEF’s hospitals.
“The three takeaways from Sankara are: our big bold, audacious vision motivated by Swami Vivekananda…self-sufficiency, our Guntur, Coimbatore and Bangalore hospitals are self-sufficient…and we are consistently the top four-star-rated charity by Charity Navigator for commitment to accountability, transparency, governance and for keeping the overhead costs low,” Krishnamurthy noted amidst loud cheers, adding that SEF is also promoting eye donation in India.
“I tell people, ‘Aap Aankh band kar ke donate kijiye, hum aankhen kholenge,’” Krishnamurthy concluded.
The two singers were back on stage in no time, prompting several rounds of high-decibel cheers. The big finale of the nostalgia-filled three-hour plus concert came when the two singers appeared together to perform some of Hindi cinema’s evergreen songs that the crowd knew every word to, and sang along.
The Gift of Vision program has made SEF one of the largest free eye care community providers in the world. The non-profit inaugurated its ninth hospital in Jaipur, Rajasthan, Dec. 7, the construction of which took 13 months, Krishnamurthy told India-West.
“We got local support from Bajaj Foundation, Maheshwari’s and Mission for Vision so that we could do it in a grand style, beautiful pink-color stone and arches,” he told India-West. “The most important thing is self -sufficiency. I was so happy to see so many patients on the inauguration day. I was waiting to get the attention of the hospital staff. And that’s a good sign. This hospital is smack in the middle of Jaipur city and we are very confident that it will become self-sufficient very soon.”
The uniqueness of Sankara’s social enterprise lies in its replicable and sustainable model of 80/20, wherein 20 percent of patients pay for the free treatment that the 80 percent poor receive.
These super-specialty eye care hospitals equipped with Lasik facilities treat not only cataract, which is a major cause leading to blindness in India, but also offer a full range of comprehensive eye care services, including ocular oncology and preventive care services.
“For the Mumbai hospital,” the Indian American executive told India-West, “the demolition has started and as soon as that is over, the construction will start. Indore and Mumbai will probably go at the same time. In Hyderabad, we are still waiting for the land, and hoping the government will give it to us at a subsidized rate.”
All the three hospitals are expected to be inaugurated in 2019, he said, explaining that the organization commences the construction only after it has acquired 70 percent of the funds to minimize losses caused by delays in projects.
“Both Hyderabad and Indore need $500,000 to reach their goal,” he said. “For Mumbai, we need another one million dollars and we will start the construction.”
SEF has played a pivotal role in increasing the number of free eye surgeries provided annually for the economically disadvantaged in India — from 8,000 in 1998 to over 1.6 million surgeries and counting today.
In addition to building hospitals, Krishnamurthy said that in the immediate future SEF will also be playing the role of a facilitator and aiding other Indian NGOs, like Akhand Jyoti in Bihar, Trilochan Netralaya in Orissa, and Shri Ranchhoddas Ashram in Gujarat, realize their dream of providing large-scale eye care services.
Krishnamurthy credited the next generation of volunteers at SEF with the smooth execution of this concert. Indian American Deepesh Chourey, also the project coordinator for SEF, is part of that instrumental team, which is carrying forward the organization’s mission.
“Our volunteers and donors are the key part of Sankara,” Chourey told India-West. “A lot of donors came in here tonight and pledged their support and donated. People opening up their wallets after a concert is unheard of.”
“For Mumbai, we have set out a million-dollar goal for fundraising. We are forty percent there,” Chourey added. “We need a lot of help and support from our volunteers and donors to help us make that project a reality.”
Expanding on what Krishnamurthy said, Chourey told India-West, “In Indore, we just acquired the land. The chief minister has been gracious enough to grace an occasion on Jan. 3, 2018, where the cornerstone of the project is going to be laid. As soon as we reach our goal for this year, which is $400,000 left in our $500,000 goal, we’ll begin the construction.”
Urging patrons to help in any way, shape or form, Chourey said, “People think that you can only be a wall of founder, which for some is a big dollar amount commitment, but no donation is small donation when you think about what you can do to an individual’s life for $30. If not, time if what you can donate.”
For more information, visit www.giftofvision.org.