The Little Things That Make Zelma A Giant: Batull Tavawala

Zelma Lazarus was always one of the people, be it her co-workers, the volunteers, the staff or the beneficiaries. Zelma belonged to everyone, writes Tavawala.


Reams are not enough for the words to be written about Zelma Lazarus.--the lady who led Impact India Foundation (as Founder & CEO) but was always one of the people, be it her co-workers, the volunteers, the staff or the beneficiaries. Zelma belonged to everyone.

I met Zelma years ago when I was a young graphic designer. In fact, I first saw Zelma-- as a vision--tall, green eyes, ginger hair, in a bottle-green tracksuit walking elegantly through the passageway of this unassuming health farm in Bangalore where the rest of us looked like what the cat had just dragged in. She had that charismatic personality, yet remained down-to-earth and gentle with a heart so generous and energy so pure that she positively charged any room she walked into and brightened any sour mood and depressed soul.

We became friends at the end of that trip, though she was older, she was vivacious and had a childlike innocence. There was nothing she could not do, almost nothing! I was completely in awe of this dynamic woman and as luck would have it, I got the opportunity to work with her as well!

The praise may sound elaborate, but for all who have known her, will agree it is not enough. Zelma's doors were always open to friends. She never hesitated to walk the talk and went out of her way to help. 

I started out by doing design and communication at Impact India Foundation as a volunteer and shortly after was inducted full-time. I happily switched careers to pursue a new role at Impact.

Zelma patiently mentored me as I went along with her on field trips observing the magic of the hospital train in far flung remote villages.

Less than one year into Impact India and Zelma had me addressing an auditorium of over 100 delegates as a speaker at an international conference as an Impact India representative. Such was her guidance and motivation! And she continued to encourage me long after I moved on from Impact. Every birthday I got a greeting and every Xmas, I enjoyed her delicious lovingly made 100yr (recipe) cake and homemade wine. 

These are but only a few of her talents: She played the piano, she sang, she danced, she cooked and baked effortlessly, she knitted countless mittens and booties, baby quilts for friends and family. She embroidered, she was a skilled seamstress and could type with her eyes closed! She was a force to reckon with.

I am blessed to have known Zelma Lazarus in this lifetime and learnt by observing her--"accept no challenge as too big and no task as too menial." 

Can't resist the story which compels this lesson. Impact had been invited for an award ceremony to showcase the Lifeline Express model Train at an international Expo. The miniature model by concerned authorities was not ready. Since there was no time to redo, we had to improvise in 24 hrs, we got her grandson's Lego and other toys, to set up the entire details of the hospital function with OT/ bed/ doctor/ patients in recovery. Zelma stitched the miniature outfits as we worked overnight to transform empty coaches into a unique display which was quite popular!

 SYNO- Stick Your Neck Out, she would say and created a mnemonic too.

A star, the one twinkling brightest is her!

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Zelma Lazarus Batull Tavawala Impact India Foundation

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