Jun 7, 2021


Two decades ago, a boy came to Mumbai from a small town at the foothills of Ooty. He came with very little but he had big dreams.  

He knew his dad had worked a lot to make this 'studying in Mumbai' possible. And an uncle had kindly agreed to accommodate him and give him shelter.

He slowly realized that Mumbai is a very expensive city. He also realized that he is a very cheap guy. And when an expensive city meets a cheap guy, the city wins. And so, he promised himself, that he might lose, but he won't go down without a fight.

So, he doubled down on his cheapness. When friends hung out at the college canteen, ordering samosas and chai, he pretended to hurry home. Because he was too cheap to spend money. When friends decided to go for a movie, he sat in the library and read. And read. A lot. Because books were free, the library was a nice place to sit without worrying about stuff. Like how the movie ticket was priced more than his weekly allowance.

His father had promised him, that money will be sent to his uncle every month. For expenses. And money arrived every month, without fail. Despite the pressures back home. But the boy knew not to take advantage of that. Because he had been taught well.

Then, one day, he got the news that his father had lost his job. Because the company where Appa had dedicated 17 years of his life to suddenly had a change in management. And the new management asked Appa to cook the books. And Appa had always said that sleep doesn't come easy on a mattress filled with money. So, he quit. Without another job lined up. With a wife and two kids to provide for.

And yet the money arrived every month, without fail. Despite the pressures back home.

The boy doubled down further on his cheapness. And started to wonder whether it might be a good idea to return back home, rather than spend time in an expensive city.

But when things feel hopeless, something turns up. Something did. A friend of his Paati happened to mention to her that she sponsors fees of young deserving students who are facing financial difficulty, from the rent income she got from her spare flat. And Paati asked her whether she will be ok to fund this boy. And she was ok.

And thus, the boy got his fees paid, without his dad having to stretch his dwindling savings any further. 

And the boy did well at studies. Of course, as one of his friends wisecracked, any guy who spent that much time in the library was bound to do well. 

And the boy grew up. Studied more, took out a loan, did his MBA and got a fancy job. Or at least, the job seemed fancy at first. It paid more as a starting salary than what his father made after 25 years of experience. And soon, he was able to send money back home. He made sure the money arrived home every month, without fail. 

And his dad continued to work, saying he wanted to work till the boy's younger brother also completed his education. Despite the boy telling him to take it easy, and that he can very well fund his brother.

And his dad started helping colleagues' kids, saying "now that you are doing well, it is time to pay it forward".

Years passed. And the boy got 'settled', at least professionally. He continued to grow at his job, get fancier pay and was soon able to get his father to retire and his parents to shift to Mumbai.  

Unfortunately, just when the boy bought his own house and started dreaming about getting his dad to enjoy a comfortable retired life, life threw a googly. And his dad passed away, way too soon, having worked all his life to ensure that his sons got a good education, got good jobs and would not need to struggle for money, but before he could sit back and enjoy the fruits of his life's work.

And that is when the boy decided. That he would continue his father's idea, of "paying it forward", in his father's memory.

It started small. A couple of students in a school for special needs kids. And another through an NGO. 

And unfortunately, it remained small for quite some time.

And then, last year, the pandemic hit. People lost their livelihoods. Some lost their lives. And while he was thinking about how to expand the scope of "paying it forward", in one of those serendipitous encounters, his ex-professor reached out asking whether he would be interested in helping out a couple of students who were facing difficulty in paying fees. On Appa's birth anniversary.

The boy said "Yes, of course." And thus, 2 sponsored kids became 6. 

And then, as the pandemic continued to worsen, the boy realized that he was incredibly lucky. That while people were losing everything, he had the privilege of working from home, and a job that paid salaries on time. And good health, although he keeps reminding himself he should be fitter. And a loving family, also in good health. And the boy realized that all of this had been possible, thanks to the kindness of a stranger, a friend of his Paati who agreed to fund his education without having even met him once.

And he resolved to increase the scope of "paying it forward." Not by a lot, but by as much as he could.

And so he reached out to his ex-professor, and told her that this year, he will try to do more. And then he reached out to family and friends, and asked them whether they'd be interested. And he's lucky to have incredible family and friends, who opened their hearts, and more importantly, their wallets.

And thus, 6 sponsored kids became 20 this year.

And the boy tells himself, "let's hope we reach 50 next time..." 

But till the next time comes around, he thought he might as well pen this down. Not to brag to the world. But more to remind himself that it is important to continue to pay it forward. That what seems like a nominal amount to him, may be a great deal more important to someone else in need.

Because the pandemic may soon be over, life goes back to normal, and the boy may forget this promise to himself, as he gets distracted with work, family, mortgage and other boring adult stuff. And so, he hopes his friends will remind him of this promise. And continue to help, when he reaches out with more students that need help.

Thanks folks. You did it. you know who you are.