“Chai, chai.” I woke to the sounds that normally wake one up in a train. The shuffling feet, the rustling of the newspaper pages and the tea vendor’s call that seems to match the chugh, chugh of the train. The only difference was that the tea vendor’s call I heard this time was highly cheerful. He extolled the goodness of his chai. Best quality tea, unadulterated milk, etc….”Besides, you can choose between regular tea and masala tea, the latter only from me”, he said affably. He cajoled a senior citizen into drinking his masala tea when he didn’t want any. And he talked conspiratorially to a youth who was sitting with a woebegone expression.
I was intrigued, wondering though if it was just the sales ploy of an enterprising young man. I just had to ask him his name and the words just poured out.
“Arjun... After the character in the Mahabharata,” he smiles. “I was not always this cheerful. And I too had followed unscrupulous ways in my means of livelihood. All that changed when I lost my son when he was eleven years old.” His face clouds over. “Not so long ago…..” It strikes a chord. “That’s when I started wondering what the meaning of life is. My son was a cheerful boy. Many people said so when he passed away. So, I decided to spread some cheer in any small way I could. And I decided that I would use only fair means to earn. It is fine for those going for a wedding or for a vacation. But you do come across people who are going for a funeral or someone who has lost a job and so on. You’ll be able to make out a sad face. I try to cheer them up. I sell tea in the overnight long distance trains. Everyone finds a morning cup of tea very refreshing. And if I add some cheer to that cup, it will brighten up their day. Don’t you think?” he asked me. I nodded in agreement.
“I am sure it does. I know. I speak from experience”, he smiled before waving his hand and continuing with his call of ‘chai, chai’.
His words brought to mind, the verse of Emily Dickinson:
If I can ease one life the aching
Or cool one pain……
I shall not live I vain
A group of social workers in the temple town of Kanchipuram meet every week to chart their down to earth projects. All of them teetotalers, not by scheme, they work at the grassroots level but seek no external aid. P C Vinoj Kumar meets them
In the chilly heights of Ladakh, Thinlas Chorol stands out as a social entrepreneur, trekking guide, ice hockey player and a writer rolled into one. Her remarkable role is changing the face of tourism up there, says Kavita Kanan Chandra
Fetching water takes such considerable time for rural women that they expend most of their time and energy on that. But ‘Water Wheel’, a recent innovation, is ushering a change in the lives of women in some villages, says Souzeina S Mushtaq
He once wanted to create a 'Shangrila' in the Himalayas. In 1993, he was into mergers and acquisitions in Citibank. But now Ramji Raghavan promotes scientific temper and the spirit of enquiry among poor children, says Kavita Kanan Chandra
Yankanma wanted to be a cook. Today she teaches English to her son. Rajesh Bhat, who quit a well-paid job to be a social entrepreneur, has many such rural success tales to narrate as he tells Souzeina S Mushtaq about his NGO, Head Held High
Students of IIT, Kanpur, are learning more about society by taking classes to underprivileged children around their campus. 'Shiksha Sopan’, a students' organization, enables many of its poor charges do what they couldn't have done otherwise
He helps students from poor families to pursue their higher studies and trains many for competitive exams, but shies away from publicity. He wouldn’t even want his photo to be published. P C Vinoj Kumar meets the founder of Mugavari, K Ramesh
If you hear the laughter of a disabled child, think of Kilikili, which literally means child's warbling laughter. Founded by Kavitha Krishnamoorthy, the NGO strove for making parks disabled-friendly. Souzeina Mushtaq tells us how it started