Harekala Hajabba, an orange vendor, leaves the house every day with his fruit basket filled with oranges, where makes a 25 km trip to Mangaluru for the past 30 years. He earns Rs 150 a day. For the last 15 years, all his money earned has gone toward building schools and giving the poor an education.
One day, he was selling orange to a foreign couple who asked him the price in English. The uneducated Hajabba did not know how to respond to their question stared wordlessly at the couple until they walked off. At that moment, he felt that the future generation should not go through the same experience as him. The orange seller decided to educate himself, and the children in the area who had never gone to any school, who are helping their mothers from the age of six rolling beedis, which has been the main occupation of the colony members for decades.
“The couple was asking me the price of oranges, but then I did not understand. Despite my best efforts, I could not talk in anything besides Tulu and Beary’s language. The couple walked away. I felt terrible and felt that at least the children of my village should not be in a similar situation. I realized how communication could help one to progress in life, and at the same time, bring people together,”he said to The News Minute.
His dream of building the school didn’t easily become a reality. He met the villagers with scorn. Someday his kids have skipped their meals, The Hindu says.
In 1999, Harekala Hajabba started a school in a mosque with few children. He received very little support from locals and authorities, but his determination toward the goal did not stop. Slowly the number of children grew. Hajabba had to apply for loans, clean the school premises, even boil water for the children, and undertake various other activities all by himself. The seller decided to move the school to another building. He also had to take loans and use his savings to buy land for the school. As his income was insufficient, he started to ask help from Government officials and others for the need for a school in his village.
“I once went to a wealthy person’s house to seek funds for the school. But what happened was that instead of giving me money, he set his dogs on me,”says Hajabba.
Eventually, he managed to get a small land. In 2004 on November 14th, the Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat Higher Primary School established in Newpadupu village. He ensured that each donation registered on a plaque and although he could not read any of them.
On a Saturday morning, the 68-year-old Hajabba was standing in a queue to buy rations in the morning, receive a call from Union Home Ministry. Since he speaks only the local languages Tulu and Beary, he did know Hindi or English. He could not understand what the caller was trying to say. He asked help from an auto rikshaw man name Abbas, who finally explained to him that the caller wants to inform Hajabba about his selection for the country’s fourth-highest civilian award.
“They spoke in Hindi, I could not understand, but later someone from the DK DC’s (Dakshina Kannada Deputy Commissioner) office told me that I was selected for Padma Shri award. I could not believe it or dream of it, but I was happy,”he said to the News Minute.
For his incredible contribution to society, the people of the area gave him the title of ‘ Akshara Santa, meaning The saint of letters.
Recognition and honors Harekala Hajabba received
- Social activist and writer Ismath Pajeer have published a book on Hajabba’s life, titled ‘Harekala Hajabbara Jeevana Charitre’ (the Life story of Harekala Hajabba).
- The life history of Hajabba has included in the syllabus of Mangalore University.
- The British Broadcasting Corporation published an article on Hajabba with the title “Unlettered fruit-seller’s Indian education dream” in November 2012.
- Hajabba conferred with the ‘Real Heroes’ award by CNN IBN and Reliance Foundation.
- Hajabba was named Person Of The Year by Kannada Prabha, a leading Kannada-language newspaper.
- In 2020, the Government of India conferred the nation’s fourth-highest civilian award, the Padma Shri, on Hajabba.
Hajabba’s dream is now to upgrade the school into a full-fledged PU college.
You can have a lot of money and still be poor. But an amazing human being like Hajabba shows us how to be rich by heart. With all he had, all he has, he wants to help others. An uneducated man who willing to educate future generations. A smart brain might fail, but a good heart always wins.