He could never study beyond Class II, since his parents couldn’t afford his schoolbooks. And even before reaching his teens, he had to scavenge for food on the pavements of Chandni Chowk, along with his five brothers. As he roamed the streets of Calcutta in tatters, Jalaluddin Gazi saw uniformed schoolchildren marching merrily along, and he longed to join the gang. He missed school so much, he didn’t want any other child in his native Thakurchak village, in the Sunderbans area, to suffer the same fate.
So, even when he was pulling a rickshaw around Entally market, he would save some money to buy books for the children of his village. Since 1978, Jalaluddin drives a cab — WBT 1963 — and the dream still drives him. The taxi, which he now owns — having paid off its original owner over the years — is also the vehicle to realise his goal. “I work to help poor children in the Sunderbans stand on their feet through basic education. Please, can you donate something' Anything, books, clothes, medicines'”
Jalaluddin’s impassioned plea to his fares rarely fails to evoke a positive response. Now, his West Sunderbans Welfare Association is a registered body and has more than 130 annual donor members, each contributing a minimum of Rs 200 every year to his crusade against illiteracy. With their aid, the 50-year-old cab driver has started the I.I. Free Primary and KG School in his village. The school, run from his own house and named after sons Israfil and Ismail, has 137 children.
While the school is his heart and soul and expanding its scope beyond the present Class IV is his primary objective, Jalaluddin has also set up a tailoring institute and donates some money to other schools in the Sunderbans towards typing lessons for its students. “I also impart driving lessons to boys from my village to help them become self-reliant,” he says. His initial trainees have passed on their skill to others and now, more than 250 youngsters from the “extremely backward area” steer taxis or other vehicles.
Every year, Jalaluddin organises an annual ceremony for the children of his beloved school in Thakurchak, where books and clothes are given away. But he is not one to rest on his oars, and by now, not just his wife and daughters, the entire village stands by him and his tireless efforts. “We are trying to raise enough funds to erect a concrete school shelter,” he declares. Efforts are also on to roll out “easy funding schemes” for villagers to own typewriters, van-rickshaws and even computers and taxis.
The cabbie with a cause can be contacted at: Village and P.O. Thakurchak, P.S. Joynagar, South 24-Parganas. Pin: 743338.