I’m not sure what to make of this story, which is why I’ve chosen to share it with you. Sometimes telling a tale helps to understand it better. As you speak or write, you also straighten out the wrinkles in your mind.
At the centre of my story is Rajesh Kumar Singh. Most people know him as a 27-year-old barber at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi. It’s a job at which he excels. The real Rajesh, however, is a very different person.
Born in Jamui, in the bad lands of Bihar, his own poverty propelled him to establish a school to teach dance to children who come from a background of adversity and poverty. Rajesh believes the poor have a talent for dance. The children who perform acrobatics at traffic lights have naturally flexible bodies and their skill deserves to be nurtured. This was his original motivation.
Now the amazing thing about Rajesh is his dedication. Ninety per cent of his salary goes towards the school. That leaves little to spend on himself. But material comfort doesn’t matter to him. Instead, his eyes light up when he talks about his school and its students.
Last year, when I first wrote about Rajesh, his school had a dozen pupils. Today it has nearly 30. It now offers two daily sessions, at noon and in the evening. It’s a simple and immediate way of taking poor children off the street, teaching them a skill and giving meaning to their life.
Twenty months after the school was founded, Rajesh is seeing real success. Sushil, who is 17, and the son of an often unemployed casual labourer and an ironing lady, first found a job as a dance instructor at a school in Ghitorni. He’s now moving on to teach dance to the staff of the Marriott in Gurgaon.
Rajesh says six others are ready to climb the ladder of success. They’ve found jobs in local schools teaching dance. Soon they’ll have an income and the chance to make a career.
Last August I offered to introduce Rajesh to politicians who could help. They have access to local area development funds, which should be used to further such ventures. So I wrote to Harsh Vardhan, a Delhi MP and member of the Modi government, and Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of the National Capital Territory. Both responded with alacrity and readily met Rajesh. They promised help.
Alas, 10 months later their promises remain unfulfilled. During this period Rajesh submitted numerous proposals and rang countless officials. I’m not sure if it’s the slowness of our bureaucratic procedures or the dwindling interest of the two politicians, but nothing has happened.
In contrast two men who read about Rajesh in this column have been extremely generous. Surendra Daulet-Singh gave Rs 15,000, a TV and a music system. MP Malhotra, Rajesh tells me, is about to give a lakh.
I’m not writing to embarrass Messrs Harsh Vardhan and Kejriwal. Rajesh would not want that nor, probably, would he approve. My intention is to point out the contrast between good people, who read columns and want to help, and politicians, who are quick to promise but slow — oh, so very slow — to deliver.
Rajesh’s school proves the aam aadmi can sometimes have the best answer to his own problems. All he needs is a supporting hand. It’s not just cruel, it’s close to unforgiveable, when it isn’t there. That, I suppose, is my complaint.
The views expressed are personal