Month of June. 9AM, the time when sun isn’t killing it. That’s time I was scheduled to meet, for what was supposedly the next amazing story. I travelled to a locality called the Hollywood Basti. A little redundant but happy statement – Hollywood Basti is where we got our first Chaaipani story.
But anyway, Hollywood is a slum in Ahmedabad, well-known for Ganesha and Durga sculpture artists.
Kids are running on the roads, carefree, autowaalas discussing who betrayed whom and I am trying my best to make it on time.
“He leaves for work sharp at 11 am. So you better be there on time”, Kinjal (Founder of Shwas) had told me while giving the lead.
Sharp at 9 am, I meet him. Dhirubhai Solanki.
Some people need to be motivated, some need an inspiration, others need an example and then there is Dhirubhai Solanki. The man who found all he needed, in his own kin.
Born in 1978, Dhirubhai has three sisters.
“Education was and still is an insignificant term for people, where I live”
St. Xavier’s started a social service society around 1980s by Father Francis Braganza. Laxmiji, Dhirubhai’s mother, went to enrol him where this newly formed society was helping kids with difficult financial situation and background, pursue education. Looking at Laxmiji, other women joined in one after the other to enrol their kids as well. Father Braganza guided young students to take up sports along with their studies. Dhirubhai, curious as he was, studied with much gusto.
“We were asked to study in English, as then father realized how important it will be after we grow up”
Sadly, nearing his 6th grade, his father passed away. At this point, the situation of the family was weak and other kids attending school weren’t interested in pursuing education. Father Braganza advised Laxmiji, to send Dhirubhai to a boarding school from his reference in Dhandhuka district. The life of the rustic, uncouth and frisky child who used to roam around the city with his friends till 2 AM in the morning, took a turn as he entered this christian school. Getting up at 5 in the morning, breakfast by 6, studying till 7, morning prayers and then a good 3 KM walk from the hostel to his school is how he began his day. Every child studying there was asked to choose a sport (this is the part he was most excited about). This was their daily routine.
“Amne kheto ma lai jata kaam karava, ane mai to kyare khetar joyo e noto (They used to take us to work on farm, and before then I had never even seen a farm),” he tells me as he recalls memories of his time at school
Near the completion of his 10th grade, when he came back home during his breaks, he went out on one of his strolls with his friends, without informing his mother. He served as waiter and came back home late after midnight. Laxmiji worried, reprimanded him and he ran away from the house only to return to his school with little time left for exam. As if this wasn’t enough, he fell ill of typhoid fever, which pretty much made sure that he had next to no time to prepare for his board exams.
“Everyone made fun of me, teasing me, by saying that I wouldn’t be able to pass that year.”
But he had taken it upon himself to work hard. With the help of the father and his dedication to complete 10th grade he passed with 60%. Father of the school felicitated him in front of the school as he had achieved a feat which most believed impossible.
I asked him as to why he didn’t pursue studies any further to which he replies with,
“I had gotten engaged even before I came home after 10th.”
Dhirubhai had seen Phuliben at a marriage and decided that he would only marry her. Laxmiji had already decided for him to get married to someone while he was at school. To respect the wishes of the family, he decided to meet the girl.
“I was gobsmacked when I saw the girl, she was the same girl I wished to marry, standing right in front of me.”
As he got engaged, he forgot that he had to collect his 10th grade results. His mind fell out of studies and three years later he got married to Phuliben.
Within two days he got a job at a real estate firm as a Patawala(Peon). Curious as he was, he saw Madhubhai (stenographer) working on his computer everyday. Madhubhai gave him small tasks at first, to switch on the computer before he(Madhubhai) came and shut it down after he left. Yes, for us, it sounds like a pretty basic task but for the guy who has never seen computers it’s very intriguing. He had taken up typing as one of his subjects in school and seeing that the keyboard of a computer has a same make, he started practicing again. Eventually with the help of Madhubhai, he learned how to use word, excel and basic tools.
“When Madhubhai secured a job in Dubai the owners at the firm thought they could hire me in the vacated place. But I was a little reluctant about it since my command on English wasn’t good. I told this to the owners.”
Solution was simple, they got him enrolled in an English reading-writing class course; he was quick to catch on. When tally was introduced in 2003 in his office, he used to sit with his accountant to learn how to use the tool.
“I am very grateful of the opportunities I have received”
Dhirubhai has three kids, Yogesh, has just passed 12th grade, who wants to become a Police officer, Gaurav, who has cleared 10th grade, and Asha who is in 2nd grade.
Gaurav, was weak in studies. Dhirubhai says he didn’t believe that Gaurav would be able to pass 10th grade. With help and inspiration of Kinjal Shah, Founder of Shwas, Gaurav scored a 46% percentile. This woke something up inside Dhirubhai.
“If Gaurav, who had a lesser interest in studies can pass, why can’t I?” Dhirubhai has decided to make an attempt to clear 12th grade with his son. He excitedly tells me how he has challenged his son that he would study with him and would try to get better grades than him.
“I am competing against my son. I believe this has motivated us both to do better.”
In this real life ‘Nil Batte Sannata’ example, Dhirubhai sets example not only for his children, but everyone who thinks they’ve missed out on time.
“Life cannot go on making sculptures, that is a seasonal service, I realised that. I had to earn for 12 months in a year to sustain, and to secure a job, education is very important, no matter what age you are”
I asked him if he has a specific interest in what he wants to do after he clears 12th grade. He, very jovially replies,
“I just want to clear 12th first, I will decide what I want to do later on, I might learn accounting to grow further at my place of work.”
Dhirubhai also loves getting tattoos, he has quite a few of them on his arms. Each of them is a testimony to his loved ones.