The real hero

He symbolises the spirit of Mumbai

This autorickshaw is unique with a television, first aid kit, news magazines besides other information to make it more passenger friendly

It was a few days ago  when Suvendu Roy of Titan Industries had to travel to Andheri from Bandra in Mumbai's North West with his wife and kid. He waved at a passing auto rickshaw, little did he expect  that ride would be any different.

 As they set off, Roy’s eyes fell on a few magazines kept in an aircraft style pouch behind the driver's back rest. He looked in front and there was a small  television. He and his wife looked at each other with disbelief and amusement. In front of him was a small first-aid box with cotton, antiseptic and some medicines.

That was enough for him to realise that he was in a special vehicle. Then he looked around again, and discovered more  –  there was a radio, a fire extinguisher, wall clock, calendar and pictures and symbols of all faiths – from Islam and Christianity to Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. There were also pictures of the heroes of 26/11 – Ashok Kamte, Vijay Salaskar, Hemant Karkare and NSG commando Major Unnikrishnan, who were killed fighting terrorists. “I realised that not only my vehicle, but my driver was also special,” Roy wrote in a blogpiece, that is doing rounds on the internet.

He had met Sandeep Bachche, who has been driving this rickshaw for the past eight to nine years. He had lost his earlier job when his employer's plastic company was shut down. Sandeep drives his auto from 8.00 am in the morning till 10.00 pm at night. No break unless he was unwell. “Sahab, ghar mein baith ke TV dekh kar kya faida? Do paisa income karega toh future mein kaam aayega (Sir, what is the use of sitting at home and watch television ? If I earn money then it will make my future),” Sandeep told Roy.

“We realised that we had come across a man who represents Mumbai – the spirit of work, the spirit of travel and the spirit of excelling in life,” Roy writes in his blog about this chance encounter.

 Working from morning to night would leave hardly any spare time to anybody to do anything else in his life. But Sandeep stunned Roy by disclosing the social worker in him. Sandeep goes to an old age home for women in Andheri once a week or whenever he has some extra income, where he donates tooth brushes, toothpastes, soap, hair oil and other items of daily use.

“Visiting those old people reminds me of my old mother,” Sandeep said. His philanthrophy inspired many  passengers, one of whom actually handed over 25 kg Basmati rice to be donated to the old age home. In fact, there is a note in white paint, which says “Please help old age home.”

Sandeep has many friends, some of whom are physically diabled, one suffers from paralysis. A painted message below the tariff meter reads : “25 per cent discount on metered fare for the handicapped. Free rides for blind passengers up to Rs 50”. Atop the meter sits a small image of a happy man, indicating a good omen.

If there is an emergency, do not worry. There is a ready reckoner of telephone numbers of hospitals. The small television set telecasts only Doordarshan news, but you are kept abreast of what is happening around the world.

Sandeep lives in a small dingy room in a Khar suburb, between Bandra and Andheri. Neither  does he have a television set nor a radio in his home. His wife is a social worker who works among women, while his two children go to a convent school. “When they speak in English, I feel very proud,” Sandeep said.

 Roy and his wife were struck with awe. For them, the man was undoubtedly  a HERO! “I know that my son, once he grows up, will realise that we had met a genuine hero. He has put questions to me such as why should we help other people? I will try to keep this incident alive in his memory,” wrote the Titan official. For him, the 45-minute journey was a “a lesson in humility, selflessness and Mumbai's spirit.” (Sandeep’s cell no. is 9022416338).

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