CHENNAI: The pandemic that dealt a heavy blow to the world was kind to R Kalaivani. It swept her to a safe haven, for a few months though. The transperson who went from shop to shop asking for money, underwent a transformation to being a constant support to patients at the Nandambakkam Trade Centre that was temporarily converted to a Covid Care Centre.
Kalaivani, who ran away from home in Mandaveli when she was just 14 years old, got into serving Covid-19 patients, swinging on the whims of her fate. She made a name for herself, among the recovered patients and authorities alike. When Covid-19 first struck early in 2020, bringing with it a total lockdown, Kalaivani, who had until then been collecting money from shops, was staring at a dead end. With shops closed, her only source of income was gone.
“I first went to care for Covid-19 patients because I did not have any other work. It was unsettling to feed, bathe and change the diapers of the patients, but as months passed, helping patients recover helped me find satisfaction in the work, and I decided that this was my calling,” Kalaivani tells TNIE. Her drive to help those in need and the constant encouragement and love that poured from the Covid Care Centre motivated her.
“The patients embraced me for who I was because, in sickness, you do not discriminate,” she says. “During the peak of the second wave in 2021, I was attending to patients in the oxygen beds. I was the constant companion to patients who were on the verge of dying; those who recovered always blessed me before leaving,” Kalaivani says with pride.It could be a blessing from those Kalaivani helped that she never got infected with the virus even after working with patients in close quarters. While she was fearful, she eased into her work.
Amirthavalli S, a staff nurse at Rajiv Gandhi Government GH, was in charge of taking care of patients at the Nandambakkam Covid Care Centre and worked alongside Kalaivani during the third wave. “She would do any work that was asked for, and even that’s not asked of her —nursing patients, bringing food for medical staff, helping us clean. Being a transwoman, she has several experiences of being discriminated against, but it did not come in the way of her helping patients with Covid-19; she did not hesitate at all,” Amirthavalli says. Though she fetched barely Rs 9,000 a month as a contract worker, she says she was content.
Now that the Covid Centre, where Kalaivani worked as a supervisor, has shut down, she is again back on the streets of Old Mahabalipuram Road, seeking money from shops. “Sometimes, attenders who were unable to care for sick relatives ask me if I can attend to them at hospitals for a meagre amount, and I do it without hesitation,” she says.
Amidst the worry of not having a source of income, she has come across a silver lining. Her parents, who refused to speak to her since she left home, have gotten in touch with her after the news about her work splashed across news publications.
“I’m so glad it helped me reconnect with my family, though economically, I still have no one to support me. I am looking for jobs as I do not want to ask money from shopkeepers,” she says and hopes to see light at the end of the tunnel.