“Why did you waste one matchstick when you could have got the fire from the oven in the kitchen using a dry coconut leaf. No one needs a match stick to lit a bidi. A match stick cost money. This money could have been saved by using a dry coconut leaf and bringing the fire from the oven in the kitchen. You are old enough to understand the value of money. ………… ” the grandpa was scolding his six or seven year old grandson in front of a group of six or seven visitors, one among them asked this boy for matches to lit his bidi. The visitors, especially the one who asked for the matchbox was visibly embarrassed, the grandson was standing there with his head down. The grandpa looked upset.
The place is a village in Midnapore near Digha in West Bengal. The grandpa is Basudeb Mondal. A man in his late 50s with dark skin, bald head with a very slight amount of hair at the back of his head reminds one of “down the memory lane”, mustache well trimmed, beard cleanly shaven, white teeth, a slight pot belly which is not at all unusual for his age. Mr. Basudeb Mondal had a two story brick house in the village, the only two story house in the entire village. It is about 9 of a Sunday morning, the visitors came with a purpose. They started looking at each other’s face at this sudden turn of events.
Basudeb Mondal let his grandson go who escaped with the speed of a rocket.
He turned his face towards the visitors who were already sitting on a mat on the floor of his drawing room. He sat facing them. Gave a big welcoming smile to his visitors. One of the visitors, Sudhir Das, was about to start, when he interrupted and spoke loudly so that people inside the house can listen to him. He asked to bring puffed rice and jaggery for his guests and for him.
Breakfast having puffed rice and jaggery was served in one big bowl for all the guests and in a small bowl for him but no jaggery for him. Water in a large pot was also kept. He lifted his butt and moved to the courtyard. There was a green chilli plant, he cut half a green chilli and returned. His visitors again started looking at each other’s face.
Till he finished his food he did not look at any one, did not exchange a single word. After his visitors finished their food, he asked them the purpose of their visit. Sudhir Das, who was in his 30s, started.
They wanted to build a school in their village in the place of the old one, whose roof has almost fallen, there was no toilet in the school, having no toilet no mother wants to send her girl child to the school, the only other option is to send their wards to the school in the neighboring village which is few kilometers away, again disliked by the mothers because of the distance, as a result girls in the village are deprived of education. They want to raise money to build a new building in place of the old and broken one having thatched roof and no windows and doors, in many class rooms there were not a single bench, in some class rooms there were no desks and chairs for the teachers. In some class rooms the black boards were broken and difficult to write and the list was almost endless. They wanted contribution from him.
When Sudhir Das had finished the others also started explaining the need and the plan, how they are going to raise the fund, the approximate budget etc.
He listened every single word of them with undivided attention.
After his visitors finished their side of talk, he started asking questions about many nitty gritties, like exact location of the school, if the school is accessible by any good road, how boys and girls go to school during monsoon, if the school has any gate, name of the headmaster of the school, about the kind of teachers, total number of boys and girls, who pays salary to the teachers etc.
Then suddenly he started asking each and every of his visitors about their profession, what they do for living.
They were all village folks. Sudhir Das had a manual rickshaw and that was his only source of income.
One among them was a green grocer, one among them was a construction worker, one was working in a factory which was few miles away, he travels couple of miles every day to his work etc.
At the end he told his visitors to go home and not to raise any money.
His visitor looked puzzled for a moment.
He told them that he will visit the school premise that afternoon and he will build the entire school at his own cost.
His visitors again started looking at each other’s face.
He told them that when he was around 13 or 14, he lost his father, he had few younger brothers and sisters to raise, so he had to start working from that age. He stopped going to school and could never return. He gradually learned the transportation business where he initially started working as a helper.
He owns multiple trucks now and transports local commodities to cities all over India.
He understands that education is important.
This is a true story, the rickshaw puller whom I name Sudhir Das told me this story.
The names “Sudhir Das” and “Basudeb Mondal” are not real.
Author: Mintu Ghoshal
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