Palak a journalism graduate believes in simplifying the complicated and writing about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. She calls herself a " hodophile" or in layman words- a person who loves to travel.
74-year-old Deshraj, an auto driver from Maharashtra's Mumbai, was on cloud nine when he received a cheque of ₹24 lakh as donations from people across the country. This happened after his story which was shared on social media by Humans of Bombay struck a chord with the readers and went viral.
Deshraj had been struggling financially. The sole breadwinner in a family of seven, he had to sell his house so that he could provide for the education of his granddaughter who aspired to be a teacher.
According to reports, a Facebook user named Gunjan Ratti started a fundraiser for the autorickshaw driver. The crowdfunding initiative that was set with a target to raise ₹20 lakh exceeded the goal as people were moved by the elderly man's determination.
"The support Desraj ji has received is immense! Because you all went out of your way to help him, he now has a roof over his head, and will be able to educate his granddaughter!" Humans of Bombay wrote while sharing the video which has a 'pawri' twist.
Humans of Bombay, a social media page that focuses on telling the stories of people inhabiting the dream city 'Bombay' and sharing their journey, shared the auto driver's story on Thursday, February 11.
In the post, Deshraj shared that he had two sons. He lost his elder son about six years ago when he disappeared and was later found dead in an auto. Although a part of him died with his son's demise, the old man did not find to mourn since he had a family to look after. Thus, he was back on the road, driving his auto to make ends meet.
Two years later, he lost his younger son as well, who died by suicide and was found on a railway platform.
"Do beto ki chitaon ko aag diya hain maine, isse buri baat ek baap ke liye kya ho sakti hai? (I have lit the funeral pyres of two sons. For a father, there cannot be a worse situation than this in life)."
He further said that it was his four grandchildren and his daughter-in-law whose responsibility pushed him to return to reality and work towards securing their present and save for their future.
"After the cremation, my granddaughter, who was in class 9, asked me, 'Dadaji, will I have to quit school?' I gathered all my courage & reassured her, 'Never! You study as much as you want,' I told her," Deshraj said.
Determined to fulfil her granddaughter's wish, he started working longer hours. He would leave for work at 6 AM and ferry passengers till midnight. He said that even after providing auto rides day in and day out, he was able to make a meagre ₹10,000 a month. He would spend at least ₹6,000 on the children's school fees and would use the rest to feed the family of seven members.
As fate would have it, on most days, the family barely had anything to eat. Once, when his wife fell sick, he had to knock on doors and beg for money to be able to get her medicines. The adversities, however, but did not dissuade the old man from his purpose.
"But everything seemed worth it when last year, my granddaughter told me that she'd scored 80% in her 12th boards–I was on cloud nine! The whole day, I gave a free ride to all my customers! She said to me, 'Dadaji, I want to do a B.Ed course in Delhi.'
Educating her in another city was way beyond my capacity, but I had to fulfil her dreams…at any cost. So, I sold our house & paid her fees. Then, I sent my wife, daughter-in-law & other grandkids to our relatives' home in our village, while I continued staying in Mumbai without a roof," he said.
He lived like a nomad for almost a year. From ferrying passengers in the auto to living and sleeping in it, Deshraj's life centred around his vehicle. At times, his old age caught up but when he got the news that his granddaughter secured the first rank in the class, the old man's happiness knew no bounds and he even offered free rides to strangers on his auto, just to celebrate her success.
After passing the twelfth standard, when his granddaughter expressed the desire to travel to Delhi to do a BEd, Deshraj didn't let the challenges bog him down despite not having any financial capacity to facilitate her higher education. In order to pay for his granddaughter's education, he sold off his home in Mumbai and sent his family to live with his relatives in their village. His granddaughter is currently doing her BEd course, and he says that he could barely wait for her to become a teacher and make him proud.
"I can't wait for her to become a teacher, so that I can hug her & say, 'You've made me so proud.' She's going to be the first graduate in our family–main toh poore hafte sakbo free ride dunga!," said the man.
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