Only occasionally do I come across a truly uplifting story so I’m lucky to be able to share one with you today. I trust it will bring a little cheer as we prepare for Republic Day on Monday.
At the centre of this story is Rajesh Kumar Singh, a young man of 26 from Jamui in Bihar. Near the border with Jharkhand, he tells me it’s an area that falls under Naxal “influence”. For the rest of us it could almost be another country.
I know Rajesh as one of the barbers at The Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi. For a year or so I’ve been one of his clients. But little did I suspect that beyond the efficiency, courtesy and diligence I respect there is a deeply thoughtful, generous and genuinely noble soul.
Last weekend, whilst he was cutting my hair and I was making conversation, I stumbled upon the other Rajesh. Actually, the real one.
This Rajesh runs what he describes as “an NGO”. It’s a “school” to teach poor deprived children dance. At the moment he has 14, ranging in age from 14 to 20. Such is their background, their parents would prefer they were working and, therefore, earning. Rajesh offers them a chance to nurture a talent and fulfil a dream. He gives them a glimmer of hope amidst the adversity and penury that is otherwise their life.
From his salary, and without any support from another person, Rajesh has hired “school” premises for Rs 15,000 a month and a dance instructor who gets a salary of the same amount. Classes are held each evening for two hours but, often, if there’s enthusiasm, for longer. During the day the instructor is free to give private tuition to top up his salary.
Each evening, after work, Rajesh visits the school to be with the students. His weekly holiday is spent almost entirely on the premises, personally attending to all the chores that keep piling up.
In fact, Rajesh’s day starts well before yours or mine. Often to reach The Taj at 6:00am he leaves home in Gurgaon at 5:00am. Not only does he depart in the dark. He arrives long before the sun rises. And, these days, it’s bitterly cold.
Rajesh’s NGO is six months old. In that time he has spent enough to buy a car. It would have made his daily commute in the cold and dark considerably easier. But he feels doing something to help children, who now can enjoy an opportunity he did not have when he was their age, is better value for money. And from the light in his eyes as he says this I can tell it’s the truth. I feel nothing has made Rajesh happier.
Let me be honest, I wasn’t like that at Rajesh’s age. At 26 nothing to me mattered more than myself. The thought of spending Rs 30,000 a month on kids I don’t know would never have occurred to me. Yet I had a privileged upbringing and lacked little. But that didn’t make me aware of, or even sensitive to, those who have practically nothing. Rajesh is the perfect opposite.
I don’t know how many other Rajeshs India possesses. However, I suspect it’s just a handful. But every one of them is a hero, an icon and, yes, a guru for the rest of us.
Rajesh may cut my hair but I’ve learnt from him values and a concept of commitment no one taught me before.
(The views expressed by the author are personal.)