Story 45

Powerhouse of energy

I first joined Leonard Cheshire Disability as its archivist in 2012. I was amazed at the types of material we have stored — letters, photographs film and audio recordings — from our earliest days in 1948 to now.

Dilip at his physiotherapy clinic in Katpadi

The archive embodies the legacy of our founder, volunteers, staff and the people we support, and we are still finding new material.

There are far too many stories in the archive for me to pick one favourite, but the life of Dilip Kumar has always moved me. Dilip Kumar was a young man in the 1960s; he had leprosy and was living at Mother Theresa’s hospice, Kolkata, in India. He was caring for an old man he had met whilst living on the streets. As a young boy he had run away from home to get treatment and was struggling to find anywhere that would take him.

We know from letters that Leonard Cheshire met Dilip on a visit to the hospice to see Mother Theresa. He offered him a place live at Katpadi Cheshire Home in Vellore — closer to his place of birth and where he could get treatment for his leprosy. Dilip accepted and after successful treatment trained as a physiotherapist. He continued to work at Katpadi after he qualified to help rehabilitate others and went on to get married and have a family.

Leonard Cheshire then decided to make a film about Dilip’s life, with celebrated film director David Lean (who also happened to be Leonard’s best friend!). The idea of breaking taboos and assumptions about the lives of people who had recovered from leprosy was at the forefront. Mother Theresa appears in this film at her hospice, where Dilip and Leonard first met.

What I love about this story is that it shows how Leonard engaged with people in a very individual and caring way. Yet at the same time he always saw the bigger picture – it was not just about Dilip but also others with leprosy and long term health conditions too.

It reminds me too of how much Leonard Cheshire achieved with so little, and long before the internet. He really was just a powerhouse of energy and I wish I had met him.

He really was just a powerhouse of energy and I wish I had met him.