Homeless Burmese teacher Merlin finds shelter in Chennai, thanks to viral video

The viral video helped Merlin reconnect with her old house owner’s family. They have housed her in an old age home and plan to take her to their home in a few months’ time.
Merlin paati with content creator Mohamed Ashik
Merlin paati with content creator Mohamed Ashik
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Content creator Mohamed Ashik’s video starring Merlin paati (grandmother), an 81-year-old Burmese woman who begged on the streets of Chennai until recently, has reached almost 29.7 million views on Instagram. In the viral video, Merlin speaks about how she reached Chennai and says that she was once an English teacher. Ashik then strikes a deal with Merlin, offering to pay her to make content in English. The video not only resonated with lakhs of people who immediately followed her account @englishwithmerlin, but also helped her reconnect with her old house owner’s family. They ensured that she was taken into an old-age home in Royapettah. 

“I spotted Merlin paati near Besant Nagar beach on September 9. I recognised her from a previous video in which she had asked the content creator for a blouse because the one she was wearing was torn. So, I decided to give her a saree and a blouse but I couldn’t leave it at that,” Ashik told TNM. “During our conversation, she corrected my pronunciation and said that she was an English teacher. I didn’t want her to beg. So I thought of creating a page on Instagram where she can teach,” he added. Since then, Ashik has uploaded reels of Merlin teaching basic English sentences that one can use to start a conversation and videos of her narrating stories for children.

Merlin migrated to India in 1996 after marrying an Indian. However, after the demise of her husband, son, and mother-in-law, she was forced to live on the streets. “Since 2018, I have struggled on the streets for day-to-day activities like bathing or using a public toilet. I have been sleepless on several nights,” Merlin told TNM. She was previously featured in the videos of a few content creators like Ashik who have offered help, she said. “Some gave money, others helped with old clothes, food, and medicine, while some have even offered to get me mango juice,” Merlin shared. 

Ashik’s viral video helped Merlin reconnect with her old house owner’s family. Logu Padmanabhan alias Shyam, the house owner’s son who used to attend her tuition classes as a child, reached out to her after seeing the video. “With the help of my friend Dinesh Kumar from Behindwoods, I went searching for Gama (Merlin teacher). Once we located her, I spoke to her and helped her recollect who I was. Dinesh recorded it on his phone and eventually published it,” Logu told TNM. Meanwhile, Merlin said that she was shocked upon recognising Shyam. “I was shocked that he still remembered me and came all the way to see me. He is more than a student to me, he is like my grandson,” Merlin said.

While Merlin’s daughter lives in the city, she is not in a position to extend support, according to Shyam. “We have also been able to locate some of her other relatives but Gama preferred to go to an old age home,” he added. With the help of Khaalid Ahamed of the NGO Uravugal and Dinesh Kumar, they were able to shift Merlin to an old age home in Royapettah. “I am happy and peaceful here,” Merlin told TNM.

Merlin teacher with Logu alias Shyam at an old age home in Royapettah, Chennai
Merlin teacher with Logu alias Shyam at an old age home in Royapettah, ChennaiMohamed Ashik

While Shyam’s wife, who is a medical officer, is currently monitoring Merlin’s health, he added that his family is looking to take her in once their house’s construction is complete. “From 1996 to 2003, Gama’s family and mine lived as one. That was eight whole years. It is unfortunate that she was living on the roads. Once we shift to our new house, we will take her in,” Shyam added.

Meanwhile, Ashik told TNM that he wishes to continue with the page @englishwithmerlin and publish educational videos to support Merlin. When TNM told Merlin about the over five lakh followers whom she had garnered on Instagram, she was in disbelief. “Really? Promise me, don’t lie,” she exclaimed. “If that is so, sure I will do more videos. I am always a teacher and so that is what I will do,” she said.

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