A day ahead of Republic Day, the central government named Dakshina Kannada-based Harekala Hajabba among the 21 recipients of the Padma Shri award for 2020. The 68-year-old fruit seller has been named for educating poor children in his village of Newpadapu through his organisation for over a decade.
A fruit seller at the Mangaluru city-based Hampankatta market, Hajabba through his own initiative shared the proceeds of his earnings for the maintenance and upkeep of the school that was initially located at a mosque in Newpadapu.
When he was earlier asked what motivated him to start the educational institution, Hajabba, who has never received a formal education, said it was a chance encounter with foreign tourists that showed him what he had missed.
“The couple were asking me the price of oranges, but then I did not understand. Despite my best efforts, I could not talk in anything besides Tulu and Beary language. The couple walked away. I felt very bad, and felt that at least the children of my own village should not be in a similar situation. I realised the manner in which communication can help one to progress in life, and at the same time bring people together,” he said.
Initially, Hajabba convinced locals and well-wishers to help him to set up the school at a local mosque. “Besides, he also made it a point to sweep the school premises, boil water for the children to drink. However during his leisure, Hajabba used to camp at the Zilla Panchayat office in Dakshina Kannada, about 25 kilometers from his native, and repeatedly pleaded with the officials to formalise the educational facilities,” a local reporter said.
As Hajabba’s efforts and popularity grew, the District Administration stepped in and by 2008, the 14th new school under Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat Higher Primary School was created at Newpadupu village. Meanwhile, Hajabba, fondly known as Akshara Santa (saint of words), also setup an organisation to streamline the effort and funding of school.
“Even after the new school was built, the 68-year-old continued to wake up early in the morning, sweep the campus, boil drinking water and saw to it that both the faculty and the students didn’t have anything to complain about. He treated the campus as though it were his own home,” Nazeer, a nephew of Hajabba, said.
Although since 2014, the Deputy Commissioner (DC) AB Ibrahim had put forth the idea that Harekala Hajabba was one of the deserving recipients of the Padma Shri award, subsequent efforts by the DK administration had not materialised. "In fact, DC had also told me in 2015 that he had sent my name as a recommendation to the Union government, but after that I don't know what happened," Hajabba said.
Hajabba, also expressed his interest to set up a pre-university college in the same premise for the children of his village. On being asked if he was satisfied with his present accomplishments, Hajabba adds that education never stops, so neither he could. “I hope the government starts a PU college also, so that students can continue education. Mostly, they discontinue after 10th standard, as higher educational institutes are in the city,” he said.
Over the years, the campus also expanded. Encouraged by the increased intake, the DK administration also added a high school to the campus in 2012. “The class rooms are named after Indian achievers like Kalpana Chawla, Rani Abbakka, Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishna (staff room), Swami Vivekanada (laboratory), with an idea to inspire the members to aim for higher accomplishments,” Hajabba said.
A local celebrity, Hajabba’s life story is already a part of the undergraduate program at Mangalore University and he has already received several local awards. However, the father of three said that he was surprised when he was informed of his Padma Shri award on Saturday morning. “I received a call from the Union Home Ministry. They spoke in Hindi, I could not understand, but later someone from the DK DC’s office told me that I was selected for Padma Shri award. I could not believe it or dream of it, but I was happy,” he said.
Story by Story Infinity (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP.)