Chennai: The middle class has up till now been known for being self-serving, with little appetite for taking risks, especially if it does not impact them directly.
But K R Ramaswamy is one man in Chennai who has broken out of this mould.
At an age in life where most men would like to be retired and at home, spending time with their family, Ramaswamy doesn't exactly stay with them.
Home for Traffic Ramaswamy, as he's fondly known, is his friend's place and company is no more than a bodyguard who accompanies him day and night. It’s a tough price to pay for his first love - the city of Chennai.
"Due to the situation in country nothing can be done without going to court. So I started filing Public Interest Litigations (PIL). They say ‘Don't go, sit and sleep. You cannot change the world.’ I don't want to be idle even if they don’t feel happy with me. I feel happy," says Ramaswamy.
“He got a lot of threatening calls that’s why we are scared for him. So for the past one year he has been living away from home, which we think is better for him,” says Ramaswamy's brother, Sunderajan.
Traffic at 73 is the largest filer of PILs in the Madras High Court and he's battled everything from restoring two-way traffic on the Chennai streets, to banning motorised fish carts.
This even cost him an eye, but didn't slow him down. His latest effort is to raise down illegal buildings. He does all this with money he uses from his own retirement fund.
“I'm one of the lowest middle class persons. I have no money with me but I'm living,” he says.
Over the years Traffic Ramaswamy may have made a few enemies, but he's also the beloved of many Chennai residents. To his family, though, he remains a liability.
“We are afraid. We told him ‘Why do this, why interfer ?’ For us, social activity means volunteering in temples. We're family-oriented,” says Ramaswamy's sister, Vijiya.
For many like Ramaswamy, taking on an activist's life often means having to break out of the middle-class mould.
Not to mention tangible problems like managing funds. Sometimes it also means a threat to one's life. Whatever the cause, for a majority of Indians, the path of activism and social work isn't a smooth one.
(With inputs from Anu Jogesh)