May 27, 2018, 11:01 pm IST
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Magnificent India

Magnificent India
A man of infinite strength

A man of infinite strength

Vijay Sanghvi, Jul 14, 2017

Vajender Sharma had crossed forty years in age without feeling the need to attend to his unkempt hair or his wildly grown beard. He had difficulties in walking without the support of a stick. Yet the man was teaching for several years the young children of vegetable sellers in Greater Kailash area of Delhi. He charged nothing from vegetable sellers though he gave lessons to their daughters and sons. His initiation in his mission was a strange tale.

He told me that he was born in Lahore but was brought up in Amritsar after the family migrated. His age is uncertain, maybe around 75. He had got through the Indian Administrative Services Exam with flying colours but his weak eye sight with other malaise prevented his joining the prestigious service. His defective vision also did not allow him to launch into a private career though he was living with his brother and his family in Greater Kailash. He had begun tutoring the daughter and son of his brother, a chartered accountant, to keep his mind occupied in some mental activity. Soon both the children completed schooling and joined college. With no children to coach, Vajender did not know how to keep his mind occupied.

One day as he was trudging along with a stick to support, he overheard a vegetable seller berating his daughter who had failed in her class six English examination. The young girl was pleading in a pathetic tone with her father that her English teacher had not taught them the complete syllabus. The pathos in the voice of the young girl moved him emotionally so much that he decided then and there to undertake a new mission of teaching.  He began teaching the children of the vegetable sellers in July 2007.

A mat was spread out between two hand carts and he would sit with his back to the wall and the children in front him. The vegetable sellers did offer to pay him but he refused to accept any token payment except two cups of tea a day. Hundreds of residents who came to buy their vegetables saw the unusual scene but no one cared to find out what the frail man with failing eyesight was engaged in. The parents were keen to empower their children but never expressed it.  Better results ignited the young minds to aspire for higher goals.

Out of curiosity, I sought details from Vajender of what he was doing and what prompted him to do so. I even asked him why he did not hold his classes in his comfortable and spacious home. The reaction was that he did not want to offend the sentiments of his family members.  Vajender did not want anyone to look down upon his students because of their humble origin.

In ten years at least thirty children had passed through his hands as other street vendors also enrolled their children for his classes. Later the number of students in his class trickled down as street vendors began to finance college education of their children. Some of his students were already married and had their own children admitted to better schools. One day I was surprised to see a young man stop his car while Vajender leaning on his stick was struggling to walk back home. The young man along with female companion approached Vajender and bent to touch his feet. Vajender appeared surprised at the gesture of the young couple. Vajender failed to recognize them owing to his weak eye sight. Only when the young man introduced his wife did Vajender recognize his pupil from the first batch.

Later Vajender tried to hold classes for children of construction workers in the same area. But they did not stay long due to the temporary nature of their parent’s jobs. In January 2017, he wound up his classes as walking even half a km from his house to the Central Block Park became a painful exercise. Though the distance was short, physically he was not in a position even to take three steps continuously.

In 2009, I had again spent half an hour with him to find out his mental health. I asked him what kind of books he would prefer to read. He expressed his interest in the history of India. He loved to read new books on ancient history of India. I had three in my collection. I took them to him. Looking at the size of books, he said in a sad tone that he would not accept them as it would take years for him to finish three books as his weak eye sight did not allow him to read for more than a few minutes a day. I told him he need not return them. He could keep them as my contribution for his great work.

Later in May 2017, it was impossible for Vajender even to step out of his house unless he had physical support. There was no one available. He was living in isolation but not as a desolate soul. He had the satisfaction of having helped thirty poor children to stand on their feet with their heads held high with pride. Very few people with such serious limitations would have either attempted or achieved as much as Vajender.

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