A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work — Colin Powell
My aim for writing that blog was to spread awareness about the heroic attributes of these people – how ordinary people become extraordinary through sheer-will and determination.
Taking up from where I had left off, today’s blog is dedicated to Santosh Kumar. Santosh is one of the expert finishers in our facility. A finisher is someone who performs the last step in the manufacturing process. His job is to assemble various pieces and stitch everything up to make an amazing leather bag using high-quality threads, brass fittings, and zippers. And what a damn good finisher Santosh is!
Fondly called ‘Messenger’ by his teammates for being the office ‘gossip girl’, Santosh is special. Born with an atrophied right leg due to polio, he rose above his handicap to earn a sustainable living - a dream that a few years ago was farfetched for him.
Santosh is chirpy, jovial on the outside, yet emotional and loyal on the inside. In a friendly chat I had with him last time, he talked about being happy personally and his wife Sunita who is his source of power. Excerpts:
SG: Santosh, take us through your journey of life. How it all begin?
Santosh: I’m from Hanotiya village in Peeplu Tehsil of Tonk district in Rajasthan, India. My father was a mason. My mother was a homemaker. I have a younger brother as well, who now works in a watchmaking company.
During childhood, I got afflicted with polio due to which my right leg has become dysfunctional. I studied in a government school and completed my 12th from there. I still remember the time when our classes used to be held under a big banyan tree as at that time we did not have proper rooms and fans etc.
SG: How was your life during childhood? How tough was it?
Santosh: Though we were poor, we never ran out of money to starve or anything. It was difficult, yes, but we were used to poverty that it didn’t matter after one point.
As for getting this disease, obviously it was tough. I’m sure most people have gone through that phase in their life where they feel down and out, but being a differently-abled kid had its own disadvantages.
Having polio impacted my lifestyle – my mobility was hampered. Everyone used to make fun as I limped towards the playground. Mentally, I was broken beyond repair.
SG: What did you do after completing your 12th class?
Santosh: After completing my 12th, I wanted to go to a college and study a bit more. I wanted to study History, as I was fascinated by the subject, but economic difficulties were such that I had to drop the idea of pursuing further education.
However, I happened to chance upon a vocational training institute for disabled persons, which was run by a charitable trust in Tonk district. I applied there, hoping that a skill-based training will help me in arranging my life easily. Also, I was handicapped, so I had to grab onto any opportunity to learn skills for earning. Otherwise, aisi haalat mai mujhe kaun kaam dene wala tha (who would have given me work in this condition)?
I got enrolled for a nominal fee, and they taught me finer nuances about sewing. Right from stitching to using the sewing machine, I was being finally being taught something that I was starting to love. It was a great experience for me, and I loved every bit of it.
A few months later, I completed my course, filled with so much joy and happiness. However, that joy remained short-lived as afterward, I had to look out for jobs. That was a struggling period that I won’t forget. No one was willing to hire me, dunno why!
SG: What was going on inside your head at that time?
Santosh: That was a time of complete despair and hopelessness. During the course, I had dreamt of hoping to earn a good income to sustain me and my family. All I wanted to be some respect in everyone’s eyes for me. But all of that changed in a jiffy -for the next 3-4 months, I was unable to get any work.
It was difficult emotionally and financially as well, as money was running out and I had to take care of my family as well.
It was during this time that Sunita and became good friends and eventually fell in love.
SG: When and how did you meet each other? What influence she has in your life?
Santosh: Ironically, Sunita and I were in the same batch when we were studying. But at that time, we did not speak to each other. It was later when I came to the institute to collect my degree of course completion that I saw her again on the campus. Even she was looking for a job back then, just like me. That I guess, struck a chord between us.
We started chatting that day and felt a connection with each other. She was the first woman I had ever spoken to in my life, and yet, there was no difficulty or hesitation in expressing myself. She did not judge based on my weaknesses. She is my support system.
Coming from the same sewing and tailoring background, we share common passion and interests – that makes us easier to remain respectful towards each other without unwarranted assumptions and judgments.
Looking back, I now thank my stars for not giving me a job as that’s how I got to meet the special lady.
SG: Superb, and how did you get here, at Rustic Town Collection?
Santosh: After staying jobless for 4-5 months, I got a call from the placement cell of my vocational institute saying that I have been selected to work at a leather bag company. Till then, I had no idea how leather satchels, messengers, ladies' bags, duffels, backpacks are made. I think they had recommended my name to you. You guys had wanted some workers for your new unit. I came here to Ajmer.
After getting a job here, I finally decided to marry her, as I’d always wanted to tie the knot only after being financially independent. She works in a different clothing unit. We both are very happy.
SG: How has been your life after coming here?
Santosh: This is the best time of my life. My wife and I are thankful to Rustic Town for giving us the respect, love, and dignity that every worker should have.
Right from teaching us entrepreneurship skills to honing our technical finesse, we all get to learn so much from Pankaj Ji and you Madam Ji. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to maintain a good living. I’m very lucky to be working here. I enjoy it a lot.
I see that you encourage traditional techniques and thus inspire and motivate all of us to revive the heritage. You are good guys.
SG: Thank you Santosh. Thank you so much.
So there we are, finding out some new and interesting things about yet another artisan. I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed listening to it.
In closing, let us go back to the Colin Powell quote above, and ask our self – are we valuing those important things in life that we have? Santosh had to live that life and come out of it to succeed.
I’d just say – keep walking.