Rajeev Poddar, 49, an Accounts and Economics teacher in Kolkata, was paralysed at the age of 9 in the year 1980. He had to drop out of school after Class 2, and for forty years now, he’s been confined to his room owing to his condition which doesn’t allow any movement save for his head and hands.
But that did nothing to dim the self-taught individual’s appetite for life and hunger for knowledge. Together, they are a potent combination and today, Poddar is a lively human being, who besides being one of the most loved teachers in Kolkata, is also a TEDx speaker and Padma Shri nominee.
“Imagine the 1980s in India—no TV, smartphone, internet, or computer. You could only see eagles and pigeons flying outside the window, and here I was, not even being able to walk,” begins Poddar.
So, when The Telegraph, an Indian English daily newspaper founded and published in Kolkata, was launched in 1982, Poddar was over the moon.
“I would read it from cover to cover, as I would whatever else I could lay my hands on. Comics and novels became a part of my staple diet too. From Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock to Charles Dickens and Enid Blyton—I read them all,” he adds.
Every once in a while, a few children from his neighbourhood would drop in at his place for some help in Mathematics. Soon, what began as a sheer timepass soon became the purpose of his life.
“I started reading their books and eventually found my passion for teaching. The room where I stay 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, is also the room from where I teach thousands of students every year,” he shares.
He says though he hasn’t stepped out of the city in the last 29 years, he has experienced the globe through the eyes of his students and by reading news voraciously.
However, more than 25 years of teaching and interacting with his students has acquainted him with the fact that the youth lacks awareness on current issues on a national and global level.
To bridge the gap, Poddar figured a fun way to bring news to his young students. He founded ‘Knowledge Capsules’ a website and a YouTube channel dedicated to covering the current state of affairs in an engaging manner.
“I started writing the latest news in simple language for students to go and read. To motivate them further, I would announce easy to win quizzes and also give away free pizzas,” he says.
To take it a notch higher and make the consumption of news more palatable for young adults, Poddar started making videos that were backed by tons of research and data. Right now, he’s focused on making videos on the Coronavirus, and often goes live on Instagram to share latest updates in the most candid and lucid manner.
“Whenever I see people lose hope and ask ‘Why me?’ I say ‘When we realise that we’re not able to do ordinary things, maybe it’s because we’re meant to do the extraordinary’,” he concludes.
The years have clearly not dimmed Rajeev Poddar’s shine one bit, and while he’s not a doctor or a nurse, he’s a #CoronaWarrior in his own right.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)