Calcutta, April 28: The father of a young woman who died in the German Bakery blast in Pune three years ago has been honouring her memory away from the public eye by helping poor students with their education.
Cotton merchant Rajesh Goenka, who agreed to speak about his charity initiative only after two years of persuasion by this newspaper, declined to be photographed or be identified by the locality where he lives.
He said he had set up the Shilpa Goenka Foundation Trust with the Rs 5 lakh he received as “compensation” for his daughter’s death, the insurance money from the Japanese firm at whose Mumbai office she worked, and his life’s savings.
“It’s her money; not mine,” Goenka said.
Shilpa, 22, the youngest of Goenka’s three daughters, was chatting with two school friends from Calcutta — siblings Ankik, 24, and Anindyee Dhar, 19 — at the Pune eatery on February 13, 2010, when the bomb went off right under their table. A fourth Calcuttan, Rajeev Agarwala, was among the 17 dead.
It took Goenka a couple of months to pick up the pieces of his life before he started the corpus.
“The money came to me in exchange for her life. Instead of getting too emotional, I wanted to do something worthwhile with it,” Goenka, who met The Telegraph in his office, said.
He would not name his beneficiaries lest they feel embarrassed. Nor would he say how many students he has helped — he believes that keeping count would undermine the sentiments with which he began his mission.
The Telegraph spoke to some of the students with the help of another person active in education initiatives in Bengal. The person agreed to put this reporter in touch with the students on condition that their names would not be revealed and Goenka’s sensitivities would be respected.
Among those whose lives Goenka has touched is a second-year MBBS student in Calcutta, who has been receiving Rs 3,500 every month to pay his tuition fees and hostel and food bills.
“My father, a farmer, couldn’t have afforded my education. But for him (Goenka), I would have had to give up my dream of studying medicine,” the medical student said.
The others include a young woman who is doing her MSc in physics from an IIT, a first-year engineering student at a private college, and a school student whose father is a rickshaw puller.
When a Pune court this month handed the death sentence to the lone blast accused, Mirza Himayat Baig, Goenka had said it meant “nothing” to him.
“After what happened to my daughter, I have prepared myself to accept that tragedy can strike any moment. I am not bothered about what happens now. The loss cannot be compensated,” he had said.
Shilpa had graduated in engineering from BIT Mesra, Ranchi, before joining the Japanese firm Nomura in Mumbai.
“I had accompanied her to the Durgapur institute (where she had got a seat through the all-India engineering entrance exam) but did not like it. Somehow she found out from the Internet that there was one vacancy at BIT, and we immediately left for Ranchi,” Goenka recalled.
After Shilpa’s death, he made several rounds of the district magistrate’s office in Barasat for the compensation.
“I fought to get the money, made many rounds to get it, so that it could be put to good use instead of lying useless in the government’s coffers. I knew that I would at least be honest in spending the money because my sentiments were involved,” he said.
Goenka’s trust not only pays the beneficiaries’ tuition fees but buys them books and laptops if necessary.
The IIT student said the laptop she got was a big help. “I had to procure one at short notice. I would perhaps not have been able to study here but for his help,” she said.
But Goenka feels it is the other way round. “It is a big thing for me. In everyone’s life, I believe, there can be a transformation, which could be triggered by something pleasurable or a shock. In my case it was a loss.”
The IIT student said that although “Sir” looked a little stern, he was “soft” inside.
“When I showed him the mail from IIT Kanpur about how much money I would have to pay, he did not go through it. He just trusted what I told him.”