Common Man, Uncommon Journey


CHALLENGE: THE ASSIGNMENT WAS TO WRITE A STORY AROUND A BUSINESS THEME WITH THE HELP OF CARTOONS.

Prakash completed writing a letter to The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi. Not that he was writing him for the first time. But this one had nothing to do with any of his problems or about his admiration for the PM. This was something large, something very important.  He read the entire letter again. Before placing it in the A4 size envelope, he glanced at the subject that read, ‘Make in Andherpur’.

                                                        ***

Andherpur, a place unknown to most of the Indians, is the hometown of Prakash. The town was named so because of the very fact that electricity was a distant dream a decade back. Now Andherpur enjoys few hours of paid electricity some fine day. Prakash had attained some technical knowledge before returning to Andherpur where he worked at the tea stall. The city was expensive enough to meet the ends. In his hometown, serving a cup of tea at the Dhaba would do.

Tea-stalls were merely a place of gossip and talk for local tea-drinkers.  Be it Bollywood or Cricket, Tea-stalls have their own set of experts. Political issues were touched for fun. It was with the beginning of ‘Chai Pe Charcha‘ campaign that these talks turned to serious political discussions. Nobody at the Tea- Stall knew that that would change the game for Narendra Modi. Neither had anybody thought that the same ‘Chai Pe Charcha’ would change Prakash’s life.

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used to occasionally serve tea to the customers of his father’s tea-stall. His chaiwala background was mocked by Mani Shankar Aiyer, a senior leader of the Congress Party. Mr. Modi seized this opportunity and emphasized on his humble background by organizing a public discussion campaign called ‘Chai Pe Charcha’.

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Prakash would listen to these discussions on radio intently. He would try to picturize himself in Modi’s position. He was amazed by the fact that an ordinary tea-selling boy could stand for the post of PM. He had decided his ballot choice by then.  He had also decided that he would change his path. But he had no idea how.

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.

-Milton Berle

One day while Prakash was listening to a piece of news featuring Modi on a radio hung near a khatiya, the tea-stall owner switched it off. He then turned to Prakash and asked him to focus on tea. He didn’t turn it on even at the request of customers.

“Ab apne Prakash ko bhi chaiwale se PM banna hai (Now even our Prakash wants to become a PM from a tea seller)”, he mocked.

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But Prakash was silent. He was deeply engrossed in his thoughts. He noticed the customers bickering over the radio being turned off. They wanted to listen to Modi. These customers then started their own discussion on Modi’s chances as PM, while having a cup of chai in their hands.

Prakash started Chai Pe Charcha at his new tea-stall.  A stove, kerosene, some milk, water, cups and saucers, and a place by bus station; his tea-stall was ready. It wasn’t so simple but he managed to borrow some money from his landlord. He bought a radio and hung it by his kiosk. He painted the front part of his kiosk black and used it to write NaMo’s campaign news. On the top of all news, he wrote Chai Pe Charcha.

With some capital and an idea, no one can stop a common man turn into a real businessman.

One day, a guy carried a newspaper with him to his tea-stall. Some regular ones started asking for news and the Charcha started. It went longer than the usual ones. There was a kiosk nearby selling newspapers. He saw people engaged in a similar discussion. The next day, he bought a local newspaper. The newspaper service was offered free to the visitors. The idea clicked. And Prakash’s tea-stall was a hit.

On one hand, while Modi was boiling up controversies and addressing rallies after rallies, Prakash kept on boiling water for tea.  Prakash kept on trying things. He came up with a special NaMo tea (with extra cardamom and ginger), the strongest one available with Prakash. He attracted a lot of attention then. Several BJP workers came to his shop and offered him money to put BJP flag and a small poster of NaMo in his stall. He agreed. With that money, he bought several NaMo accessories from a nearby city. NaMo T-shirts, kites, keychains etc. left several guys from the regular discussion groups go crazy.  Some pro-BJP supporters happily ordered for more as they found it a good way of promotion in Andherpur. He had added an extra kiosk by his side to sell those accessories. He brought in snacks to sell. Prakash was no more just a tea seller. He was a complete businessman.

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He realized it sooner that he had opened up several new avenues of doing business for himself. He wanted to dedicate all his success to Mr. Modi. He thought of writing a letter. He knew his letter would go unnoticed. Probability of reading it was hardly any. He stilled posted it.

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Modi used the catchphrase ‘Yeh Dil Maange More’, connecting the youth during a rally in Himachal Pradesh. This catchphrase was first used by the Late Captain Vikram Batra during the Kargil war. It is connected with the sentiments of people of Himachal Pradesh. Pepsi had also come up with its commercial in 1999 using the same catchphrase.

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Prakash heard those lines and his heart spoke at once ‘Yeh Dil Maange More’. He had thought of expansion. Now he knew the plan. He contacted Pepsi for retailing. He had no idea about this business, but now he was confident of learning any business. He required an investment. A kiosk was not sufficient. He needed money for security deposits to Pepsi,a refrigerator and above all electricity. In electricity-deficient Andherpur, Pepsi’s presence was thus limited. In all shops across Andherpur, freezer was just a formality. Prakash came up with the idea of using charcoal-covered water pots. The temperature inside the pot used to be lower than the room temperature. Prakash’s conventional way worked. No need of electricity. He later bought a freezer from his previous employer in the city where he worked as a technician. But the electricity problem left him thinking.

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He addressed his concern over electricity deficiency in his letter to NaMo. It was once again a futile effort.

NaMo said in one of his speeches,

‘Mind is never a problem. Mindset is.’

He pondered over the issue once again. Until then he had never given it a thought. Sleeping in the open was a routine. There was no reason to it so far. From that day onwards, he would stare at the sky for long before sleeping.

***

It was the day of election results. Prakash’s tea-stall was a special attraction. BJP workers had organized a TV screen in front of the tea-stall. Prakash had seized this opportunity and declared that he would offer a free chai for every seat BJP wins. Modi was seizing one seat after the other. For Prakash, it was no less than a dream. He had hundreds of customers at his kiosk, which was by then a converted shop. The radio was silent. The screen was on and so was the celebration. There were two chaiwalas seeing their dreams fulfilled that day. One was the talk of the entire nation, other the talk of the town.

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The next day, a newspaper covered an article on chaiwalas of India. The article covered a tea shop owner couple who visited 16 countries because they had a passion for travelling. This couple took loans, visited a country and then sold tea for next three years to repay it. Passion for travelling kept them going. The article presented Laxman Rao, a Chaiwala who authored 24 books in Hindi. His passion for learning brought him to M.A. class at 62 years of age.

Prakash was doing well in his business. But inside his heart, he knew that the conditions in Andherpur were not suitable for business. If he ever wanted to become Dhirubhai Ambani, he had to leave the place. Andherpur was simply not a place for big business. He had his options open. He could move back to the city, but something was preventing him to do so. He wanted to live in his own town. Either he could wait for the government to come to his deprived town and solve the problems or else approach the authority himself.  He chose the latter one.

Electricity was the solution to major problems in Andherpur. No amount of  written applications to the local government could help the town. Andherpur was dark then, dark now. However, Prakash believed there was only one way out; the highest authority – PM.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had come up with a series of initiatives like Jan Dhan Yojna, Jeevan Jyoti Beema Yojna, Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojna, Swachha Bharat Abhiyaan, etc. in no time.  Prakash actively participated in each of these causes.

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But the project that intrigued him the most was Make in India campaign. He didn’t understand it at first. People thought that Make in India was meant for cities, not places like Andherpur. Why would a huge firm invest in Andherpur?

Make in India is an initiative program of the Government of India to encourage companies to manufacture their products in India. It is based on PM’s vision of making India a global manufacturing hub.

***

Solar Energy. The only source of light, the only available source of energy in Andherpur was solar energy, although in the form of sunlight. When firms like SBG Cleantech, SunEdison Inc, ReNew Power Ventures committed huge investment in Renewable energy in India, Prakash thought of the aspect of those investments in Andherpur. ‘What if these companies put up their plants here? Solar energy can be the new lifeline for this town.’ He knew it was time for another letter

There was no reply to any of his letters so far. There were high chances that one more letter might undergo the same treatment.  He had to ensure that every word he writes in the letter counts. He had also to ensure that the letter didn’t go unnoticed.

Prakash changed his tea-selling strategy. Instead of glasses, he started selling tea in kullad. With each kullad, he was selling a dream- Make in Andherpur. He wrote about it outside his shop. Every tea-drinker was asked to carry that kullad to house. On the night of Amavasya (New moon), entire town glimmered with lamplights. The atmosphere was no less than that of Diwali.

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Thousands of kullad were captured from a high spot in the town. Prakash had called a photographer from the nearby city.

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The next day, he wrote a letter to PM.

 

Dear Shri Narendra Modi ji,

I write this letter to you for the nth time, each time with same conviction, same hope. But today  I believe my letter will find you, because this letter is an invitation from thousands of townsmen of Andherpur. I know that you may not have heard of such a town. But then, how can you? There is no town as such. Or, is it? Every town that reflects the state my town is in, is Andherpur. The kullad sent to you represents lamp- a symbol of enlightenment .The photograph sent to you show thousands of these that lit life in the dark Andherpur.

I would like to compliment you for initiating ‘Make in India’ campaign. But the real place where anything needs to be made is Andherpur or places like it. Therefore, I would like you to convey our message to these investing companies, ‘Come, Make in Andherpur’.

I would have liked to tell you how big your admirer I am, but then I would have to attach those n letters with this one. May be some day when you find them, you will definitely know. 

Truly,

Your admirer, Prakash

***

Prakash was in his shop making chai when a postman came up to him with a big envelope. On the envelope was written,’ Government of India’. Prakash opened it with his knife to find a letter neatly typed in Hindi. He read it. He read it again to his disbelief. It was a letter from the Prime Minister himself. The body of the letter read,

            ‘Chai ke liye kab aa rahe ho? (when are you coming for tea?)’

-Satyagni

CREDITS: SHUBHAM CHAUDHARY, ANSHIKA BANSAL, VASUNDHARA, POOJA GOYAL, GAURAV GUPTA, SATYA UDAY

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