129th recipient of help (livelihood bicycle) :
“I believe it is time to take my chance
To reach out and touch my dream
however impossible to you it may seem.”
Surendra Ambekar (52)
Newspaper vendor. (At Bandra west.)
Since over a year, I had been noticing a newspaper vendor who sets up his ‘baakda’, wooden makeshift-stall, next to Perry Cross Road BEST bus stop. He did not have a bicycle, and I would see him often run with newspapers, delivering them to clients on streets nearby. He would leave someone to mind his stall and disappear into lanes and buildings nearby.
One day, nearly a year ago, I stopped to ask him if we can buy him a bicycle. Surendra Ambekar.
Surendra agreed reluctantly, because he had a very ill father to look after and could not save money soon enough. I told him to save at least Rs 2000, and when he does we will contribute the remaining 2500, and get him a new one. He agreed, without any excitement. I knew then, that he will not be able to gather that amount soon.
My instinct, sadly, paid off. Every few months, when I happened to come across Surendra, and I inquired from him if he had managed to save the amount of Rs 2000, he said he had not. However, he never gave me a reason or any excuses. I felt he was determined to save that amount.
After a few weeks, one day when I again approached Surendra, en route my ride, he said had saved 1500, and will have the remaining in a week. I told him 1500 will be enough. Because I know our donors would willingly contribute the remaining. He agreed to visit me the next day with the 1500 he had saved. He never turned up.
After a few months, this time I deliberately looked for him, waited at his stall for him, since I did not have his phone number or address. He arrived soon, walking briskly and was preoccupied with deliveries.
I asked him, quickly, not to waste his time, what happened, why did he not turn up, we were willing to contribute the remaining 3500 if he had saved 1500.
He continued to sort his newspapers, and said his father had been very ill and was hospitalized, so he had to spend that money on his medical bills. His father died, early this year I think. He said he is now beginning to save money once again and he will call me when he has saved 1500.
Another few months went by. I happened to come across him on my way back from my town ride. He was running in a lane to deliver a bundle or newspapers nearby.
That is when it hit me, this man has been wearing the same shirt ever since his seemingly crippled boat sailed into my seas horizon. His chappal (slippers) was in tatters.
To put things into perspective for myself, I wear sets of new clothes at least four times a day. We have given away our foot wear and older garments even before a stitch wears or the color dye or threads lose their strengths. I thought, considering he has not been able to save the 1500 he said he would on several occasions, he must be having very compelling daily expenses, or someone very ill he cares for. I was curious to know about his very compelling expenses.
He had also told me about his mother’s illness and he has been running around looking after her so he has not been getting time to come see me. Even the day he collected his new bicycle, yesterday, his mother was admitted at a hospital.
I decided then, we should buy him a new bicycle and not take any contribution from him. I am witness to his struggles since a year now to gather Rs 1500! I made him that offer, and he agreed. My conversation was not really over, and yet he took off to deliver his newspapers.
A through professional, I thought of him. And certainly not a beggar for freebies. I really liked this stranger.
Last week, when I finally met him to interview him in depth, what he told me in the very beginning was something like: “Thank you for this bicycle you people want to buy for me. But what I really need, the help I really need, from someone like you or your friends, is give me a chance at doing some ‘business. Some kind of trading. Anything, buying and selling anything you people may have to offer for someone like me. I am very hard working, and I will do justice to the opportunity that may come my way through you. I just need a chance at being an independent business person. I do not need money from you or your friends. Just a chance at buying something from them that I can sell at a decent or fair profit.”
(‘Not that I do not value this bicycle you are donating to me’, was always reflected in his tone.)
I think his biggest disappointment has been his father, who worked at the docks, did not let him join the docks. He did not want him to work at the docks. Yet, Surendra looked after his father until his last pulse beat. His second bi disappointment was, he had wanted to be a Policeman, but his chest cage (after inhaling breath) was not large enough for police recruitment.
Surendra is educated till the 12th class. I asked him, what has been his happiest moment so far? He said, it was when is son came first in class. That was by far his happiest moment ever so far. He has two sons, one is still studying and the other is working and I think learning animation. I was glad he was educating both. He was not putting the little he was earning into a new shirt and slippers for himself.
While he spoke, what I saw in front of me was a man who feels he lost his chance at life’s better opportunity. I think it is because his two brothers have prospered, but he feels he has not. However, he still feels young and able and still waiting for the waterfall to find her way to his parched throat. I was really glad we helped him. Even if we are just a trickling stream.
Surendra told me a lot about his life so far, which I decided not to write about. Not that it was not worthy. I listened to his regrets, his joys, his crushed dreams. But I decided to leave you with the prayer he really left me with:
I believe it is time to take my chance
To reach out and touch my dream
however impossible to you it may seem.
It is only up to me to still strive and still try
I want you too to see what I can still achieve
Because I still believe in me.
So don’t give up on me.
And the same goes for us too.
Thank you to Surabhi Shah, Natasha and Khuram Abdulla, and Chan Purewal, for buying the new cycle for Surendra. We did not take any contribution from him, though he has promised he would like to contribute at east Rs 500 when he is able.
And thank you to Kohinoor Cycles (http://kohinoorcyclestores.blogspot.com/) Siddharth Vora (https//www.facebook.com/siddharth.vora.58?fref=ts) for the good discount and service on this bicycle.
(PS – Rs 3000 is what it takes to donate a new bicycle; yes, because the balance, 2000 to 2500, is contributed by the recipient. 🙂 )