It is not just the rich and famous. Ordinary people are also doing their bit to make our world a better place.
They are like you and me. You see them every day at the grocery store and on busy streets. They might be your typical ‘girl next door’ or an unassuming young graduate, yet there is nothing average about them. They are amazing people with amazing stories. They believe in small acts of kindness rather than grandiose intentions. These are your everyday heroes. They quietly touch our lives and we don’t even get to know about it. Rather than making a big deal about their efforts, this superhero brigade is shy, sometimes reticent, and prefers to let actions do the talking.
Often one notices people being kind because they had once suffered at the hands of fate and now want to protect the world from similar harshness. Their generosity is rooted in past experiences and previous brushes with cruelty.
However, our everyday heroes are different. If they wish to clean the streets or educate slum dwellers, it is not because they had once lived in miserable conditions or were not allowed to complete their education. They do so only out of the goodness of their hearts, knowing that their efforts, small though they might be, will go a long way in bringing about a positive transformation.
So what differentiates them from you and me? Nothing much, except that they are willing to dedicate their lives to something larger than themselves; they are not afraid to be afraid; they just work harder towards change. As someone rightly said: a hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.
JOY OF FLYING
The presence of a huge Airbus A300 aircraft in Dwarka, one of Delhi’s plush suburban residential areas, usually elicits gasps of surprise from bystanders. This unserviceable plane used to sit unused in a hangar until Bahadur Chand Gupta, a retired Indian Airlines engineer, bought it from an insurance company.
Even though the plane is missing a wing and a chunk of its tail, it is still considered a resplendent beauty by the residents of Dwarka. “I run a service to give people, who can’t afford to fly, a taste of what it’s like to be in an aircraft,” says Gupta, the captain of this ship.
His virtual journeys, in a real aircraft, are a hit with street children and slum dwellers who are given the joy of ‘flying’ for free. While Gupta takes the main controls, his wife serves the drinks and food trays to the passengers alongside other flight attendants. Passengers look on wide-eyed with admiration as the captain makes announcements from time to time regarding weather and temperature outside.
Even though the aircraft never takes off and the landscape outside never changes, passengers can’t help looking out of the windows in anticipation. “I belong to small village in Haryana. When I was with Indian Airlines, many people from my village wanted to know what it was like to be in an aircraft. Through this service, I am realising their dreams,” explains Gupta.
His service elicits different kinds of reactions from people. While some people feel scared that the plane will take off any minute, others get upset when it doesn’t. “I have had people coming and touching my feet in gratitude as they feel that their life’s most cherished dream has been fulfilled. When I see the smiles on their faces, I feel that my life has assumed a whole new meaning,” says Gupta.
From the face of it, Nandan Pandya looks like your regular 24-year-old. However, this unassuming young man has been doing some very extraordinary things in his spare time. If you ever happen to peek into his bag, you will come across a curious assortment of things. Besides the regular journals, mobile phone and wallet, his bag also contains three to four pairs of plastic chappals. Every morning, while heading to the station, Nandan hands out all this footwear to slum kids and street dwellers without fail.
It started a year-and-a-half ago when Nandan used to stay in Kandivali, a bustling suburb of Mumbai. Every week, he visited a small temple and gave his old clothes to a woman who used to make garlands. During these visits, he noticed that her 18-year-old son would just hang around idly, without doing any work. “One day I couldn’t help asking him that why didn’t he go and earn a living. He simply looked at me for a minute and then quietly replied, ‘I can’t go anywhere as I don’t have any chappals’,” recalls this engineering graduate. Nandan immediately bought the young man a brand new pair of slippers. Since then, Nandan made it a habit to carry with him at least four pairs of the footwear, in varying sizes, for both children and adults. His gesture often takes people by surprise. Expecting cash or food, street dwellers really don’t know how to react when Nandan presents them with chappals. “Small children are the happiest. They revel in the fact that you have given them something other than food. Women too feel extremely secure that this is at least one object that shall not be snatched away from them,” he elaborates.
It is believed that no kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action always spawns another. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. It is with this belief that Dhaval Shah and his friends meet every weekend to do their bit to make the world a better and cleaner place.
Every Sunday, Dhaval and his buddies can be found in various parts of Ahmedabad sweeping the filth and garbage off the streets. “Every day I would pass by a filthy place and wonder why no one cleans it. So one day, we decided to take the initiative and clean it up ourselves,” says this final year engineering student.
It all started when a group of youngsters connected in their desire to do something meaningful for people. “We are not an organisation, this is just a movement and you don’t have to fulfil any criteria to be part of it. All you need to have is a desire to add meaning to your life by performing small acts of kindness,” explains Dhaval.
While youngsters their age would probably be catching up on their sleep on a leisurely Sunday or hanging out with friends, this dynamic group is busy thinking of ideas and activities that would benefit the local NGOs. Dhaval, however, has a word of caution for those who think that just by spending an hour a week they are fulfilling their duty towards society. “These acts of kindness have to be integrated into your daily life. I follow this tenet very seriously. I usually carry a nail cutter with me and whenever I meet children at the station, I chat with them, have chai, cut their nails and teach them about hygiene,” says this shy unassuming youngster.
KEEPER OF THE DEAD
1968. The year Surat was ravaged by floods. A young Kishor Bhatt used to sell newspapers outside Mahalaxmi Station in Bombay. When asked by a rich entrepreneur if he wanted to help the victims of the Surat floods, Bhatt didn’t think twice and left immediately with a truckful of food packets. “The scene there was gut wrenching. Animal corpses were lying mangled with human bodies. When I came back and told my father about it, he said that if you ever find an unclaimed dead body, do your best to give it a dignified funeral,” reminisces Bhatt, who now owns a furniture store in Jacob Circle. Since then, each time Bhatt comes across an unidentified corpse, he covers it with a cloth, calls the police and conducts the last rites. Initially the cops eyed him with suspicion. But now, when they come across a dead body they call Bhatt to help with the funeral.
His life is peppered with heartwarming incidents when people he helped went to great lengths to express their gratitude. He remembers one such moment vividly. One morning, he saw a man lying outside his store. On finding that he was suffering from tuberculosis, Bhatt took him to the hospital immediately. “Some time later I found him outside my store again. He said that, ‘main aapka bas shukriya ada karne aaya hoon’ (I have just come to thank you). Just after saying that, he died in the taxi. I couldn’t sleep for days thinking that the man must have made so much effort to ward off death till the moment he could thank me,” says an emotional Bhatt.
On a warm summer evening, as 28-year-old Arundhati Mhatre sat in the verandah with a book in her hand, her eyes fell on a tiny little sparrow that was desperately trying to create a nest on a telephone pole. Mhatre was so touched by the bird’s frantic attempts that she decided it was time something was done to make the lives of sparrows a little easier.
Realising that just sitting back and feeling incensed was not going to achieve anything, she started to design shelters and feeders for this ubiquitous bird. That was 2007. Two years down the line, Arundhati has managed to create a hundred such shelters across Mumbai.
Her endeavour has brought her in touch with a diverse set of people; while some encourage and bless her work, there are others who want these shelters only to embellish their gardens. “There is a large population out there that is ignorant and sceptical. Some of them look at us in wide disbelief and tell us that a sparrow will never come and live in these shelters!” exclaims Arundhati.
The greatest high for her is when thrilled families call back to say that chicks are hopping about in the shelter. “It is never possible to do something single-handedly. There are so many people who have joined hands with me… Sudhir, Yatish, Rohan, Shrutika… the list goes on. We are all in it for the love of nature. The satisfaction that one gets from helping this small bird is enough to drive us to do a lot more,” says Arundhati.