Mira Singh is a 13 years old kid residing with her parents in Calcutta, West Bengal, India. Mira is inquisitive and questions things. She likes to indulge in engaging discussions.
Mira and her father, Rakesh, were watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel about billionaires of the world. It was 7:00 p.m. on a Sunday.
Rakesh Singh is an entrepreneur and educator who has seen life from every angle. He is what he is because of his struggles and his ‘never say die’ attitude.
“If you want to become big, you need great support from people without whom you cannot grow”, said Mira.
“If you’re determined enough, you can do it alone. When people see that you’re fighting for something right, they’ll support you. This is when you grow”, added Rakesh.
“Dad, do you know of someone who has seen many struggles in life and still came out winner?”, Mira inquired.
It was 7:15 p.m. Instead of quoting the life of any famous person, Rakesh thought about telling her a story that was very close to his heart and which he had never shared with her.
“Not far away from Calcutta, in Midnapore, there lived a kid who was born in a low income family. His father was a soldier, who passed away in a war fighting for his motherland. The kid was only 1 year old then. He was the only child to his parents. His uneducated mother, who was suffering from cancer, also passed away when he was just 3 years old.
He was shifted to a foster care in Midnapore – where he was taken care of by the local institution in Midnapore along with many other disadvantaged and orphaned children. He remained gloomy at times, inattentive some other times and disconnected to the place for most of the times. But slowly with the care of the institution he adjusted to the place. He had now started playing with other kids. He started enjoying his stay at the foster care.
One day the foster care institution got a call from a father whose 3 years old kid went missing about a year ago. Despite trying all the sources, the family was not able to get hold of him. His wife had been very upset for the past 1 year and they had finally decided to adopt a kid from the institution. Destiny had it and this kid was adopted. The new parents who adopted him were educated and wanted their adopted kid to pursue higher education.
The kid shifted to Calcutta with his new parents. The kid was sent to school. Although he was bright in studies, he would always get low grades either because of his absence from the school or due to his misbehaviour, for which he was not allowed to enter the class. He had become difficult to handle. The kid’s new father had a good bonding with the kid and he would listen to him. His father was a great motivator. He always thought that the world would be a better place if everyone were educated.
When the kid grew 7 years old, a very small incident left an indelible impression on his life. Once his father was sweeping the house, as his mother wasn’t keeping well. They could not afford to have a maid working for them. His father looked very tired as after an entire day’s work at his job, he had to do the household chores and cook food for all three of them.
“Why are you sweeping the house?” asked the kid.
His father just gave him a gentle smile.
“Why are you cooking food? Don’t you feel ashamed of doing this? Give me I’ll do it”, the kid said after a few minutes.
“In your life, never feel ashamed of doing any work as long as you feel it is right. You become great not by doing only good work but by doing the work that keeps you grounded. When you are on the ground, you can aim for the sky. If you’re already flying, there’s too little you can aim for. Stay humble, stay grounded.”
Just three years later his parents died in a car accident while on the way from Calcutta to Darjeeling. Once again, he was alone in his life. The kid did not know what to do, where to go and whom to approach. Worse, he did not even have money to feed himself and pay his school fees. He thought to end his life. He went near the Hooghly River in West Bengal, travelling alone without any money. When he was about to jump into the river, he saw fishes coming up and down and eating the food that dwellers and travellers offered in the river. A lightning struck in his mind and he just stood there observing the phenomenon of fishes.
“Life will show you many ups and downs. When it shows you ups, you’ll feel elated and excited. When it shows you downs, you’ll feel frustrated and depressed. Remember that both the situations are temporary and will pass as quickly as they came. If you’re carried away by it, you’ll waste your life. And you just have one life to live. You should not waste it. Go embrace it and go along with the flow”, he remembered these words that his father had framed in wood and hung up in the hall of their house. Perhaps, only today did he realise the true meaning of those words.
He got up, came back to Calcutta and went to a school to enroll himself. But as he could not pay the fees he was rejected. But he wasn’t dejected. He had made his mind that he will earn money and get a good education, which his father always wanted him to have. At 10 years of age, when normal children would still be living on their parents’ money, this kid went out looking for some work to support his education.
Hungry that he was, he went near a restaurant in Calcutta and started cleaning the mirrors of the hotel thinking that someone would see him and offer him food. Instead, the owner of the restaurant offered him a job to wash dishes at night and in return offered a nominal salary, food for two times and stay at the restaurant at night. He readily accepted the offer. The money was just enough to get him enrolled in a school. But then he needed books and school dress. He normally got free by 1 a.m. at night.
One fine day, due to festival season, there was a heavy rush and so the workload increased. He was washing the dishes till 3 a.m. At 3, he left the place to roam on the streets and to enjoy fresh air. He saw that a few people were sweeping and washing the streets, some were painting the roads with black and white stripes. He went to one of them and asked how much did they earn for doing that work. They said 7 INR for 2 hours per day (just a little over $0.1). He quickly calculated that if he worked for a month he would be able to collect about 210 INR, which would be enough to buy his books. He pleaded them to give him the job. But they argued that he was too young to get the job. After much pleading, he was given the job.
Now he still needed money to buy the clothes. The contractor who had given him the job of sweeping the streets was looking for someone to clean his car daily.
The contractor had a ‘white collar’ job a few years ago. He left it to start a business of his own. He liked to stay neat and clean. He loved his car more than he loved his wife. It was a vintage car that his grandfather had bought and rode daily and now he continues the legacy.
The kid saw the opportunity and asked the contractor to give him the responsibility. But the contractor felt that he was too short to clean the car from everywhere. The kid instantly brought a table lying in the contractor’s backyard and cleaned the car so well that the contractor was simply impressed. The money that he made from here would then go to buy his clothes. His entire night was spent in doing three odd jobs that would support his education. He went back to the school, paid the fees, got his books and bought his clothes.
Although he was admitted to the school, the students didn’t talk to him much since he always smelled badly, had ruffled hair, improper dressing and sometimes slept in the class. This in a way affected his studies since there was no one to help him. In the first year he got very low grades. He then approached a teacher and explained his situation to her. She helped him get organised and become well mannered.
The teacher was a kind-hearted lady, who did not have a child despite 7 years of her marriage. She loved children very much and was always ready to help them. She was the most lovable teacher in the school.
The teacher made a plan for his studies, keeping in mind his 3 jobs and minimum hours of sleep. He would go to teacher’s house after school to study. He was asked to speak only in English with her as well as the entire class. She made him read small articles in English from the newspaper. The kid asked teacher to prepare daily tests for him so that he could remember things even if he did not have enough time to read during the exams, due to his jobs. The teacher, in turn, made him analyze his mistakes from the tests and find his strengths.
Sometimes he was made to read small comics in English. She made him plan his day by writing it out on a diary so that he never missed out on important tasks. This made him regular at his work as well as he took note of every thing he wanted to achieve on a particular day. Sometimes he played chess with his teacher to improve his memory skills. Now he was enjoying his studies as well as his work. Often, he helped his teacher in her household chores.
Two years he studied hard and got trained under the teacher and managed to score really well. The teacher left for the US with her husband. At 13, he realised that if he wanted to pursue higher education he will need a lot of money. So at the tender age of 13, he started teaching students after his school hours. In the vacations he even conducted special classes for Maths and English, which helped him make even more money to save for his higher education. He considered this a novel way to prepare for his own exams. He had kept some of the money with his close friend so as to use them only in absolute necessity.
When things are going great, sometimes, destiny hits you really hard.
When he was 15, a severe cyclone hit Calcutta and his restaurant (where he worked and stayed) was devastated. All the money that he had been saving for so long was flooded. All the clothes and books that he had bought were now flowing with the water. The only thing that remained with him was the school dress that he had worn on that day.
But he never gave up on his dream to pursue higher education. In fact, he took back his personal savings from his friend and enrolled himself into a course to learn computers and technology. Strange, isn’t it? A normal person, in his place, would have thought to start working again, but he enrolled in a course that was very expensive. He somehow knew that technology has the capability to change the world and help him make loads of money. He was very adept at it and learnt quickly. He was probably the youngest among the group that had come to take the course. He passed the course with an A+. At the age of 18, he was offered a job in the same coaching class where he had studied that computer course. Once again he took a decision that would surprise many. He rejected the offer.
Instead, he started building his own programs and started approaching people to use it. Gradually he built programs that were robust and more user-friendly than already available in the market. At 20, he had enough money to enroll himself into a University. Once again destiny hit him hard on his face. The Universities that he wanted to enroll in did not accept him because he was yet to appear for his school exams. He had money, but still he couldn’t get an admission. He joined a private class and appeared for his school exams and once again applied at the University. After all the struggles he was selected. He worked really hard at the University and managed to get a scholarship that waived off his entire tuition fees. He also managed to run his company during the four years while at his University.
“Wow Dad, that is amazing”, said Mira. “What happened next?”
He sold his successful company and exited the business to pursue his passion for teaching. In the next 10 years of his life he taught at a local University in Calcutta and then went on to teach at Stanford University. Today he is an entrepreneur again in the Digital Education space since he believes technology and education together can change the world.”
“Dad, how do you know so much about that person? Have you met him?” asked Mira.
“How do I know him? Hmmm… How do I know him?” murmured Rakesh.
He got up and went to his room. He took out the same school dress that the kid had worn on that day. It was very well preserved for all these years. When he did not come out for some time, Mira went to the room. She saw that her father was reminiscing.
"Dad, is this the same school dress?"
Rakesh gave a smile to her - perhaps the same smile that once the kid's adopted father had given him.