Celebs-in-philanthropy is the latest thing (see this NYT Sunday Magazine piece, featuring Natalie Portman). One disgruntled PR guy sums it up on Gawker: “You can’t just get $20 million a picture, you’ve got to serve turkeys to the poor too.” Hollywood is one tough scene.
Last month a different kind of celebrity died. No movie star but a friend to India’s lepers and harijans: Baba Amte. Born into a wealthy landowning family in Maharashtra, Baba Amte’s life changed when he stumbled across a leper dying in the gutter.
A moving tribute in The Economist describes his reaction thus: “He was outraged at the fear he felt: fear of touching, as if he shared the common belief that lepers were paying for their sins and would infect anybody who came close. Where there was fear, he told himself, there was no love; and when an action was not done in love, it had no value. Deliberately, he went back to the gutter to feed the leper and to learn his name, Tulshiram. He then carried him home to care for him until he died, and began—once he had had training in Calcutta—to work in leper clinics all around the town”.
Baba Amte hated the word charity (go to YouTube here). True he fed the poor, and got them back on their feet. But above all he wanted to give them the dignity of work. And that is what he did with the thousands who passed through his ashrams He would have hated being called a celebrity. But we should celebrate a life well-lived.