While some believe in doing their share of noble deeds in the latter half of their lives once they are done with fulfilling their aspirations, there are others for whom retirement only strengthens the desire to do more. One such couple is the Wigs from Panchkula who have logged up an impressive roster of achievements. While Dr Narendra N Wig has been the torchbearer of progress in psychiatry in the country, his wife Veena has years of dedicated social work to her credit.
Master of the mind
Offering free medical treatment with dignity for underprivileged patients had always been Wig’s dream. He started the psychiatry department at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, in 1963 and was its head from 1968. He later moved to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, and did a stint with the World Health Organisation (WHO). Even after his retirement the 83-year-old doctor continues to be active in clinical service, teaching and voluntary social service activities, and has been running a free mental health clinic in the city for over two decades. Closely associated with the work of Servants of the People Society, a non-profit social service organisation, he also organises discussions on mental health for the public.
“After retiring I wanted to set up a clinic where underprivileged patients didn’t have to pay and stand in long lines for hours. All people deserve to be treated with dignity,” he said, adding that he had done similar work at the PGIMER where there were others to assist him, but at this clinic he was entirely on his own.
Underlining the need for greater awareness about mental health, Wig said, “Despite the fact that almost one-third of Indians are afflicted with mental illness, they continue to be neglected and unfortunately there is still prejudice attached to treating it.”
Quoting from one of his books, The Joy of Mental Health: Some Popular Writing of NN Wig, he sums up the reason he is determined to continue working till his health permits, “Deliberately live a simple life. Do not try to increase your resources to meet your needs but reduce your needs to meet the resources available.”
Multifaceted at 72
When it comes to working tirelessly for the welfare of the underprivileged, Veena Wig, 72, is not far behind her husband. A social worker, she is attached to a local NGO, Youth Technical Training Society (YTTS), engaged in educating slum kids and disabled children. “All of them want to receive a formal education, but unfortunately their parents can’t afford to send them to school. Hence I try to contribute in my own little way,” she says.
Though Veena continues to help underprivileged children, she has been particularly involved with old abandoned women in the city’s slum areas, for whom social group meetings are arranged every fortnight.
This dates back to an incident almost a decade back when she came across an impoverished 75-year-old woman named, Ganga Devi, in a Panchkula slum. Her sons who were daily wage labourers were unable to support her. Realising there were many such poverty stricken slumdwellers, she gathered 35 women and explained the concept of a ‘club’ as a place where they could enjoy an ‘hour of dignity’.
With the support of YTTS, the ‘Ganga Devi Club’ was started in 2004, the first of its kind in slum areas, and which continues to function till date. Later, many such clubs were set up in other city slums. “Women spend time together and share their joys and sorrows at these clubs. The movement is spreading in other slum areas as well,” she says.
A cancer survivor, Veena has been left minus a kidney and urinary bladder, but that has not weakened her resolve to give back to society.
An active volunteer of the Cancer Sahayata Sahyog, she makes it a point to spend time with cancer patients every week, adding nothing gives more satisfaction than helping those less fortunate. “I’ve always loved knitting and hence I like to knit sweaters for slum kids and hand the garments over to them whenever I visit them,” she said.