Steering the wheels of one of Kolkata’s trademark yellow taxis, Gazi Jalaluddin doesn’t only commute his passengers to their destinations, his taxi ferries hopes for hundreds of underprivileged kids whom he wants to see flourish in the days to come. The otherwise rustic mien of the 63-year-old taxi driver unveils the profound dream he carries in his eyes — the dream that no child from his locality ends up being as misfortunate as him.
He now runs two schools and an orphanage in his village Thakurchak near Joynagar in West Bengal’s Sunderbans area — famous for the breeding ground of the Royal Bengal tiger.
A childhood of difficulties
Gazi’s streak of being a class topper ended at an early age of seven after his parents had to discontinue his education due to abject poverty. Unable to make ends meet, Gazi resorted to coming to Kolkata and beg on the streets. “Even after I stood first during my class II final exams, my parents couldn’t afford my education, and I had to drop out of school. I came to Kolkata and started living on the pavements of Entally market area where I had to beg for my food,” said Gazi to The Logical Indian.
A few years later Gazi started pulling a rickshaw on the streets of the city, and it is when the dream of educating children of his village kindled inside him. In 1977, then 18-year-old Gazi learnt to drive a taxi, and with some meagre income, he started fostering the dreams of the underprivileged children by donating books to them. “I started off by asking my fellow passengers to donate so that we could buy books for kids. For the next 20 years, I arranged books, clothes sometimes food for the children,” said Gazi.
Free taxi driving lesson
He also stepped up his charity work with a noble initiative. Forming a ten-member committee, he decided to offer free driving lessons to unemployed youth. The Sunderban Driving Samiti started with the deal that once a youth gets a job, he would teach driving to others and donate some amount annually for the education of poor children in the locality. There are now around 400 such young men from Joynagar driving taxis in Kolkata.
Opening his first school
Gazi made his first breakthrough in giving a shape to his dream in the year 1998, when he built a two-room house in Thakurchak village with his meagre savings, and opened a small school in one of the rooms. He had earlier sought help from the villagers to give him some land so that he could build a school, but nobody paid heed to his request. The school started with some 22 students from the economically deprived neighbourhood of Sunderbans and two teachers. The students were given education, books, clothes and food for free with the money Mr Gazi earned from driving his taxi. Many of his passengers took an interest in his work and started donating money for the welfare of the school. The school, named after his two sons — Ismail Israfil Free Primary School — was becoming popular, and more children were enrolling. His entire family is still also devoted to the cause of the school.
It was during this time he realised that many of the students were orphans and despite wanting to help them, he couldn’t do anything because of the dearth of resources.
A fulfilling of dreams
“In 2006, a man came forward and donated me six kattha of land in East Thakurchak area which I used to build another school named Sundarban Sikshayatan Mission which we inaugurated in 2009,” said Mr Gazi. Now, there are around 16 teachers, six non-teaching staff and nearly 400 students in these two schools. Many of the kids who’ve studied at one of Jalaluddin’s schools have gone on for higher studies and even ended up getting a government job.
Mr Gazi’s efforts slowly started getting recognised all over the state, and it eventually helped him to give wings to another ambition of building an orphanage which finally came into being in 2016 as the Sundarban Orphanage Mission. He arranges all the residential requirements of these orphans by saving money from his earning and help received by those who donated. Despite several humble pleas to the government nobody has come up to offer him any help.
Gazi drove his old second-hand taxi for almost 25 years. After a ban on vehicles of more than 15 years, he replaced the taxi with a new one.
The taxi that can be identified from a distance
His new taxi — WB04E4753 — now bears the message on its shiny yellow paint: “The earning by this taxi is used for the students of Sunderban Orphanage School. I urge traffic police not to register any case against this taxi. Regards, taxi driver Gazi Jalaluddin.”
Gazi is proud of what he does. “Now my two sons are also driving taxis, and they help me to support the cause of the deprived children in Sunderbans. I personally ask donors to become lifetime members of the Sunderban Orphanage and Social Welfare Trust and participate with me in my journey,” says Gazi.
The lone fighter
Even if the government doesn’t help me I will lead my own fight for the education of these children, the soul cause I support because I never got any opportunity like this,” says Gazi.
There are hundreds of people who once availed Mr Gazi’s taxi has now become well-wishers and donors for this initiative.
Amrita Das Gupta, an M. Phil Scholar at Jadavpur University and a social worker extensively working for the welfare of people of Sunderbans is helping relentlessly to arrange donations for Mr Gazi’s initiative.
“I had met Shiraj Ali Raji who introduced himself as the son-in-law of Gazi Jalaluddin. On coming across, his name flashed in my mind, how I had heard of people say about his school and him in Sunderbans. As my research arena pertains to Sunderbans, I had come across his name several times. But I never got the chance to do something in person for the school until now. Pulling this donation spree in a small scale is quite difficult for me. At times I feel exhausted, how hard it must have been for him to realise his dream, he is the living example of, ‘if there is a will there is a way’, and everyone has equal rights to life, food and education,” said Amrita to The Logical Indian.
A humble Mr Gazi believes that as long as people are with him helping to fuel his dreams along with the dreams of 400 children, there is no turning back. Still, Sundarban being an area of the educationally backwards people, there’s a long way to go. He now aims to build a Higher Secondary school for the underprivileged students.
The Logical Indian community salutes Mr Gazi Jalaluddin for his path-breaking initiative of catering education and wellbeing for the deprived section in the remote villages of Sundarbans. Those willing help Mr Gazi in his endeavour to bring a better tomorrow may contact him on +91-9735562504 or email at [email protected]
You can read more about the initiatives at www.sundarbanorphanage.blogspot.in