When the results of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) 2019 were announced earlier this month, perhaps no other teacher would be more ecstatic than Ajay Bahadur Singh.
Fourteen of his students from financially downtrodden backgrounds from Odisha emerged triumphant, after cracking the sought-after entrance exam.
Having once nursed the dream of becoming a doctor, adverse circumstances forced Ajay to forgo his ambition.
More than his own, it was his father’s dream to make him a doctor. However, his kidney transplant ended up leaving the family in poverty, and Ajay, who was already three months into coaching for the medical entrance, had to bid goodbye to the dream.
To eke out a living and fend for his family, he had to set up a stall where he sold tea and sharbat. He would go on to do many jobs like selling soda-maker machines, taking tuitions, and even selling soft drinks at weddings and religious functions to pay for his father’s treatment.
But Ajay always had a penchant for teaching and soon opened an entrance coaching institute that would finally help him pull through life financially and help many students nail various engineering as well as medical entrance exams.
However, his unfulfilled dream of becoming a doctor remained in the back of his head and Ajay wanted to do something for kids just like him who wanted to be doctors, but whose financial state did not permit them to dream any bigger.
In 2017, he established Zindagi Foundation, where bright students who couldn’t afford the highly expensive medical entrance coaching were enrolled and given free coaching. Besides, the coaching, food and accommodation for these kids are borne by the organisation.
In the very first year of its functioning, 12 of the 18 students who came to Ajay made it to medical colleges in Odisha.
Speaking to The Better India, Ajay shares his joy at how his students overcame every barrier to achieve their dreams. “I’m extremely proud of these kids. Despite living in abject poverty, one thing that propelled each one of them forward was this undying spark. It is this relentlessness that led them all to taste success,” the 47-year-old mentor shares.
He can’t stop gushing with pride when he shares their struggles. “From a child whose mother sold pithas at the temple for a living, to one whose father always wished for his kids to become doctors but passed away before fulfilling it, our kids come from situations that seem impossible, but they did it! So what if I couldn’t become a doctor, my kids are doing it for me! If I had managed to become a doctor, I believe I would have saved thousands of lives. But because all these kids made it, not just thousands, but the lives of lakhs and crores of people will now be saved,” he adds.
Taking the ancient Gurukul reference, Ajay mentions that as the Guru to these kids, he only expects one type of Gurudakshina, one that he expects them to pay back throughout his lifetime.
“Just the way I helped them realise their dreams to become a doctor, seeking no monetary benefits, I hope that they will do the same when someone knocks on their doors for help someday, that they don’t hold themselves back and go the extra mile to offer their services. That will be my gurudakshina,” he concludes.
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(Edited by Shruti Singhal)