“Main akela hi chala tha, Janib-e-Manzil magar Log sath aate gaye aur kaarwaan banta gaya” laughs Manish Bajaj, reminiscing his experiences in the field of social welfare.
Manish Bajaj, a TCS employee, has been working for the upliftment of underprivileged kids for past 9 years.
It won’t be wrong to assume that his expenditures far more outweigh his income. When asked the reason of such magnanimity, giving credits to his parents, he calls it “mere ghar ka kaam”. Recalling the seed of such initiative, he narrates his visit to a girls’ shelter home via TCS’ CSR activity, where he dressed as a clown. That “joker uncle” intending to spread smiles in the orphanage that day, himself had his eyes moist with the overwhelming satisfaction of serving the society. That was the beginning of a journey.
He soon mailed his colleagues fabricating a plan about doing social work to which 8 of them responded positively. Komal Gala, Archana Shah, Priya Kotak, Nikunj Haria, Kunal Deshkar, Shradha Karambe and Manish Bajaj all residing within the vicinity of Mumbai & Thane, work for two shelter homes mainly– Ma Niketan at Thane & Balwatika at Silvasa. As Mr. Bajaj rightly refers that without the support of these friends nothing would have been possible and these 8 Super Heroes work for the welfare of these kids at both these shelter homes unconditionally and regularly. They named their group “Only Human”, inspired from Michael Jackson’s song ‘Will You Be There?’ He says what he does is “bare minimum thing that a human should do.” Spreading religion of smile, his group celebrates birthdays of children at the end of the month, conducts theme based parties, bubble shows, Bhangra and Rajasthani dance, all of it just for the tiny tots. They even supply ration for shelter homes whenever they can or dire need arises. One such example is when they supplied food and beverages for tribal children near Gujarat border. Having begun since 2009, now this routine is the happiest chore of the day for him and his team, who lovingly refer the children as ‘children of their own’.
Gaily dressed as different characters like a clown or crime master, to make children laugh, Manish parallelly also fulfils his long-cherished dream of becoming an actor. Also, music being his avocation, he organized a “Sing for Smile” show where people could come up and sing for the children, and the donations would be utilized to buy necessities for them. Manish often thinks about expanding functions to old age homes, in anticipation of giving some memorable days to the senior citizens of the country in their senescence. Those old films which he once watched with his parents, again find their shelves being dusted and sorted today, as he plans to watch the same with old age people.
Manish essentially believes in creating memories for children, which is why he insists on volunteering to come straight from the heart. This is the reason that he considers registering as an NGO just as accretion of formalities. When asked what significant difference he found between the daily life and social work, without much deliberation he drew a fine line of division between the materialistic desires and ascetic life. He contrasts the artless happiness around children with the greedy and insatiate life that people lead these days.
But the journey of doing well wasn’t so easy for him too. The team faced numerous challenges. The funds were misused, number of volunteers stooped, internal conflicts rose and the team had to be bifurcated, people chided them for conducting events with such massive funds instead of spending it judiciously. They nearly faced a dead end when even the funds ran out. But as they say, ‘where there is a will, there is a way’. The team overcame it quite boldly and continues to serve the society till date. When asked about the long term goals of the team, Manish said he anyway doesn’t rely on planning but yes, he has figured out certain things. As for now, he is both emotionally and financially drained to take on a new endeavour, but it won’t be long when they return to the town with full swing.
We also asked Manish does he never feel like being known by the kids for whom he does so much. He contently related this to an anecdote when a young boy who had just passed his High School, walked up to him and said, “Manish bhaiya, you are my father figure.” Many girls call him as their “hero”. He calls this as his achievement. Exactly Manish has won something that none of us have. He is believer of Catherine Aird’s saying, “If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.”
“I am quite happy to have become a horrible warning at least!” he grins.
He lives a rich life of love with a family where relations were established with love, for love. A family where may be members would cease to remember him with the passage of time, but he would remember each and every face till his memory supports. What would be future of his team’s status, we don’t know. Till when he would be able to serve such a huge chunk of kids, we can’t guess. Will his team expand or diminish with the blows of time, we don’t know. But what we do know is that his parents would be smiling at him from above. We know the children are lucky to have him. We know he is the flickering lamp of humanity in the grey world of unlimited wants. And, we know that we are proud of him.