“Always leave the negative thoughts behind. It is most important to finish the work and help others,” says 84-year-old Balu Gaikwad from Shiraguppi village in Karnataka’s Belgaum district.
Balu’s shop remains one of the oldest cycle repairing shops in the Shiraguppi village and has become a symbol of humanity today. His wrinkled hands narrate a story of compassion–a story which has made him friends with people across the villages of Chikodi and Athni blocks in Karnataka.
An attempt to make ends meet
Balu couldn’t complete his education beyond class VII as there was no high school within 7 km of the nearby villages. Gopal Gaikwad, Balu’s father, wanted him to join the army in Belgaum town.
“At the age of 15, we went there but I couldn’t make it because of the age restriction,” recalls Balu. After a year, his maternal uncle took him to Sangli town, 36 km from his village, where he worked at a grocery shop for two years. “I used to get Rs 45 monthly, back then,” he says smilingly.
His elder brother, Shankar asked him to start a cycle repairing shop in Shiraguppi village. Back then, Balu had no experience in repairing cycles.
He narrates, “I started the cycle repairing shop in my home. However, I didn’t know how to repair them. The only thing I used to do was to dismantle the cycle, observe the parts and assemble them. A few people would yell at me if the cycle didn’t work properly and I would listen to them patiently. I kept repeating the process, and that’s how I learned the art.”
Four years later, he shifted the shop to the bus stand area of the village where he paid a rent of Rs 1 monthly [the early 60s] which has now increased to Rs 1,000.
A journey of humanity
In the early 70s, a class XI student named Ramgonda Patil asked Balu if he could rent out one of his cycles. “I knew that Ramgonda was from a poor family and his education would have stopped had someone not given him the cycle,” says Balu.
During those days, the nearest college was 12 km away, in the Kagawad village of Athni block and students would cycle to the college.
Hearing Ramgonda’s plea, Balu immediately lent one of the cycles for free. “I told him to return the cycle only after completing his graduation and later, completely forgot about it,” recalls Balu.
Ramgonda later got an administrative job in the nearby high school. He retired and invited Balu to the farewell a few years ago. Surprised by this gesture, he asked the reason for the invitation, to which Ramgonda replied, “It’s only because of you that my life changed completely. Had I not completed my education, I would have never got the opportunity to work in a school.”
Balu would rent out 16 cycles every day to the people who would travel to the nearby villages.
There is a temple in the nearby village of Mangasuli where thousands of people from nearly ten villages come every month. “Earlier there were no vehicles, so the only means of transport was cycling. People used to wait four hours for the others who had taken Balu’s cycles to come back. A lot of these people couldn’t afford to pay the rent (which was Re 1 in the early 70s), so they would promise to pay it the next month,” he explains.
He never asked these people for money and kept the community service alive for several years, until public and private transport came up.
“Everyone who promised to pay me later kept their promise and today, all of them have become good friends of mine. At least ten old people who used to take my cycles come to the shop daily,” he says smilingly.
His humanity went beyond the realms of cycle repairing. Earlier, there were no newspaper distributors in the village, and the newspapers would come daily from the nearby town of Miraj in Maharashtra. “Back then, the newspapers would come a day late. Every day, all the newspapers would be delivered to my shop, and the people who subscribed to them would come and take them,” recalls Balu.
He never charged any money for collecting the newspapers and keeping them safe. This went on for a decade.
He would never refuse a customer and was renowned for his humble nature. His wife, Phulbai, who was a farmer, passed away three years ago after suffering a heart attack. His elder son, Chandrakant, 53, repairs cycles with Balu and looks after the agriculture. “I have asked my father to retire now, but he always refuses,” says Chandrakant.
Every year, many people from the countryside go on a pilgrimage to Pandharpur town in Maharashtra’s Solapur district. Three decades ago, a farmer named Baburao was on his journey to Pandharpur. “It was raining heavily, and Baburao had no place to stay. It was late in the night when I met him. I asked him to stay in my shop, arranged for the food and gave him some rupees for any emergency,” says Balu. Humbled by his kind nature, Baburao visited him every year until he passed away a decade ago.
“These are just some of the stories about which we know,” says Chandrakant.
“A lot of people have asked him to retire, but he shows up at the shop every day at 8 am. We get all the cycles repaired from him even today,” says Bhagwan Chavan, 60, a farmer from Manjariwadi village.
Each day, Balu works for more than 12 hours and manages to earn close to Rs 250. He clearly has no plans of retiring anytime soon.
Looking back at this long journey, he says, “Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t use cycles now, but this won’t stop me from helping others.”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)
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