It was an overwhelming feeling, something that stunned me and almost sent me in a trance.
Last month, on 19-Dec, I had the honor of addressing 10,000+ children gathered in one giant hall. It was the largest assembly I had addressed till date. And no, it was not the size of the audience that my eyes welled up. Nor was it the fact that those children gave a thunderous applause when I entered. It was something entirely different. Read on.
In 1992, a simple man who had grown up in abject poverty with a widowed mother and seven siblings took an unconventional step. He was 27 years old at the time, an age when most of us are thinking about our material goals, an age when it’s hard to see past our own desires, when parents are asking about your plans of getting married and settling down and all that. And yet, he quit his job as a Chemistry teacher in a private college and traveled to the innermost regions of his home state, Odisha.
The idea was very simple: make quality education accessible to the poorest of the poor.
He brought 12 tribal children with him after giving many assurances to their parents most of whom spoke in a local dialect and did not even know Odiya, the language of the state, or any other official Indian language. He took responsibility for their safety, meals, accommodation, uniforms and education.
Fast forward to 2018. 25 years later, Prof. Achyuta Samanta’s Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, or KISS as it’s commonly known, houses 27,000 tribal children where they are educated from kindergarten to all the way to post graduation. KISS provides free meals, accommodation, education, uniforms, medical facilities to everything else you can imagine under the sun including churning out international rugby players.
Prof. Samanta didn’t just stop at that. Alongside, he built another organization called KIIT (Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology) where 27,000 paying students are enrolled in various courses. Campus spread over 400 acres. 54,000 students combined (in both KISS and KIIT). 12,000 staff. All from one person’s dream and relentless action.
“For every one student enrolled in KIIT,” Prof. Samanta told me, “we induct one tribal student in KISS. Income from KIIT is used to fund KISS.”
Meeting Achyuta Samanta was a heartwarming experience as he radiated love, wisdom and humility. Till date he lives in a two-bedroom rented house I was told. Never marrying, he has devoted his life to elevate the lives of hundreds of thousands of young children.
I was amazed to see the discipline and responsiveness of the children. Throughout my speech, every time I asked them a question to ensure they were with me, they answered promptly and correctly. They understood my message, humor and stories.
“It is not your but my pleasure and privilege to be here,” I said to the children. “Your mere sight is inspiring me to do more for our world. I thank you, your parents and your teachers.”
“Everyone who takes birth is blessed with three basic rights,” I added. “Life may not seem fair but no one can take these three rights away from you. The right to dream, the right to choose and the right to act. Dream with open eyes. Make mindful choices and act responsibly.”
The purpose of this post is not to glorify Prof. Samanta, for people like him are beyond endorsements or odes. They are their own makers who cut through adversities like stone through water. Instead, I just wish to share with you how each one of us carries within us a seed of greatness. It is up to us whether we resign to our fate or rewrite it.
It all starts with a dream but at first, a real dream is not always a grand vision. Google, Facebook or Microsoft founders, when starting out, never thought they would end up building mammoth organizations. Often, the beginning is just a tiny matter you care about, something that’s close to your heart. As you continue to work with persistence and sincerity, your dream grows with you. You begin to gain the wisdom to see what all is needed to realize your dream. That, many things must come together for something to take place. Which of the following you think is required to realize a dream?
- Hard work
- All of the above
The truth is that these are merely the ingredients of success and on their own, ingredients alone don’t make a great dish. It is also the recipe, portioning, presentation, ambience, whether it’s Beethoven or Bollywood songs playing in the background and so on. Together they influence our overall experience and eventually contribute to how delicious a preparation might taste. In other words, I am suggesting that it’s only when we create the right conditions that our dreams begin to materialize.
If you focus on creating a conducive environment, achieving the desired outcome is only a matter of time then. I remember watching countless birds perch on the trees I see from my window. When it was spring, they came, sang, chirped, played on tender new leaves, butterflies and bees sat on blooming flowers, the grass was green as were the trees. Birds of beautiful color and tiny wings came. I did nothing special to invite those birds except that for the last two years, we had been tending to the health of flora around my cottage. We focused on creating the right conditions and Nature took care of the rest.
In a family or an organization, if you want to encourage truth and transparency, you have to create an environment that supports it. Whatever we want to boost, we have to encourage it. Therefore, when you are working towards your dream, all you have to do is to be mindful and ask yourself, “this step I’m about to take, is it taking me away from or towards my dream?”
One baby step followed by another, by another and yet another…this continues till one day you walk into your dream, when all that you dreamed once is now around you in the real world. That unreal feeling you get when you climb the Mount Everest, that Samadhi a yogi attains after years of yogic discipline, that moment when a founder-CEO rings the opening bell on the Wall Street to mark the IPO of her company…
That’s one small step for a man and a giant leap for mankind. ~Neil Armstrong
My gratitude to the phenomenal Mr. Arun Bothra and his loving family who left no stone unturned in organizing a highly productive stay in Odisha and took care of every little detail. Through him alone, I had the chance to meet the wonderful children at KISS.