Of small steps and giant leaps

[Changemakers] Neil Amstrong once compared his small step on the moon to a giant leap for mankind. A humble uneducated orange-seller starts a school in Newpadpu, Harekal, unmindful of what a giant leap of hope and inspiration his story is for the rest of mankind

The interview unfortunately must take place over phone, denying us a glimpse into the world Harekal Hajabba lives in. In his musical, Mangalorean dialect, he starts by telling us about selling oranges at the Mangalore Bus Depot for 35 years. And of tourists conversing with him in English, a language he doesn’t speak or follow. He tells us how these incidents made him aware of his own uneducated status and opened his eyes to the state of the school in his town, Newpadu, 30 kms from Mangalore.

The Zilla Panchayat-run school was about to be shut down for lack of building space. This was in 1998, when Hajabba, empty-handed but optimistic, approached the Panchayat for permission to re-open the school. With nothing to lose, they agreed. A couple of members even gave him some seed money to set him off.

In the year that followed, Hajabba managed to collect one lakh rupees and a 1 1/2 acre plot from the government. In 2000, the Zilla Panchayat High School re-opened in its new building. Dharmastala provided the school with teachers,

somebody bought in the benches, the people in Newpadu began enrolling their children and the numbers grew. From a tiny group of 28, the school grew to accommodate 208 students. Fortune smiled on the school when newspapers in Bangalore got a whiff of the story and began to write about Hajabba. From 2004, funds from various philanthropists began to trickle in. A company in Kormangala donated 20 computers, while Canara Bank built them an auditorium.

The State recognised Hajabba with awards and Kannada Prabha, a Bangalore daily, chose him for their ‘Man of the Year’ award.

Today the oldest students are in the eighth standard, which includes, Harekal tells us with unblemished pride, his wife. Permission has been procured to start the 9th and 10th standard as well. Despite the honour and attention showered on him, life has not changed much for this 50-year-old man. He worries over his wife’s sickness and daughter’s pregnancy complications. In between visits to the doctor, he makes time to scrounge around for funds to run the school. But he is yet to miss a day at school. He overlooks the administration in his capacity as the President, every morning from 8 to 10. Since the post is non-salaried, the measly rupees he earns as an orange-seller is what feeds 5 mouths at home. When asked if the number we call on is his neighbour’s, discomfort enters his voice as he says yes. He doesn’t want to speak of his financial troubles anymore.

His gratitude at being featured is overwhelming. He wishes and blesses us profusely, before he hangs up, embarrassing us that he should even consider this act worthy of praise. For he is giant among us mortals, who gives away twice of what he has and takes half of what he needs. The pleasure, gratitude and honour, has been all ours.


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