The old man was N. S. Rajappan, who has been plucking plastic bottles from a river for years to earn a living. He was paralyzed since the age of five when he was struck with polio but thanks to his daily routine he has kept the waterways of Vembanad Lake clear of plastic.
The 69 year old fills his boat with plastic which only earns him about Rs 12 (17 cents)-enough for a meal. Nandu uploaded his story and photos to his Pro Media Facebook page, and people began retweeting it, including the UN Environment Program chief Erik Solheim, who suggested, “Let’s make this guy famous.”
Even the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, commended Rajappan’s efforts during his monthly radio address. “I have seen news from Kerala which reminds us of our responsibilities,” he said, telling his listeners the story. “Imagine how highly he thinks! We must also take inspiration from him and contribute towards cleanliness as far as possible.”
The story went viral and inspired Indians to send gifts to Rajappan. He was given a new motorboat, courtesy of a local businessman, and plans are in the works to build him a little home to replace the riverside shack that had been severely damaged in a storm. Not only that, but a Bangalore-based company making wheelchairs has given him a heavy-duty motorized wheelchair.
“With support coming in from thousands of people, both financially and morally, I could see his life changing,” Nandu said, “I always wondered what it felt like to follow your passion, but never knew its true feeling till the day I met Rajappan chettan (brother Rajappan),”
“I went to him and showed him the photo I clicked. He smiled at me—and then I knew what it meant to be a photographer.”
Picture by: Nandu Ks