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The EXTRA-ordinary INDIAns!!!

Dr Navniit Gandhi Wednesday, August 9, 2023
The EXTRA-ordinary INDIAns!!!

How are the ‘ordinary’ people different from the ‘extra-ordinary’?

DO you think that the extra-ordinary folks hold superior positions and have amassed a lot of wealth and fame and hence, they are a bit above the rest of us? Well, while the above could be the definition of a luxurious life, it certainly cannot be the parameter to spot an extra-ordinary life.

How can then one identify an extra-ordinary; an incredible person?

If you peer keenly, you may see that it is all about what we choose to do in the one lifetime we get. Some of us are so bogged down by responsibilities and struggles that a whole lifetime just passes in taking care of our own livelihood and our own families. Well, it is not that we---the ordinary folks do not matter! Everybody matters; every life makes a difference to some one or the other. And yet, the extra-ordinary ones, despite having landed with the same plethora of issues and struggles, decide to live a little beyond their own selves and the necessities of their families. They do something that makes a BIG difference to lives around them or to a society and a nation, at large.

Even amidst their personal hardships, they decide to embark on a journey whereby something or somebody will stand to gain and that ‘someone’ is not their family or friends. They may save a dying art or a dying river; they may bring to life a community or a forest or an extinct species.

Whether in the period before 1947 or afterwards, there are thousands and thousands of stories of Indians, who have led extra-ordinary lives; who have made us proud; who have brought pride with their thoughts and actions or put their skill-set to good use; and who have made the difference in the narrative of India!!!

Thousands of men and women, spread over the vast and beautiful terrain that India is, have done more than their bit. They have taken a leap out of their narrow personal or family concerns and comforts; have gone beyond the usual mundane ways of spending a lifetime and accomplished extra-ordinary feats. Movies may not have been made on them or odes written or Wikipedia pages devoted to all of them---but they are there! Their faces may not be familiar because they are not glamorous and nor are in the limelight for wearing trendy clothes or for wearing expensive watches or for stirring a controversy, but they are here; breathing in our nation and tirelessly striving to save something or to develop something or to improve some state of affairs. They are amidst us all the time.


To those thousands of EXTRA-ordinary citizens of India, whom we do not know, let us BOW!!!

Khader Vali is doing his bit to stem the rise of lifestyle diseases through his very strong advocacy of millets in our daily diet. He is a scientist, and was working in the US, but returned to India to try and save the soil and convince people on the benefits of consuming millets for the good health of all.

Pritikana Goswami is trying to revive Bengal’s long-lost Nakshi-Kantha’ craft (art of embroidery) and is not only keeping the art alive but making sure that hundreds of women in the rural areas are empowered too in the process. While Prof Janum Singh Soy is doing more than his bit to preserve the tribal language ‘Ho’, Bhiku Ramji Idate is working tirelessly to preserve the life and livelihood of deprived communities in India.

The stories of extra-ordinary Indians are uncountable. Some are saving plants and rivers; some are uplifting art-works; and some are serving humanity. All of them may have their families and friends to take care of, but they have chosen a higher cause for themselves. They have chosen the difficult path to tread on.


Etikoppaka is a small village in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Not many have heard the name of this lesser-known village located on the banks of Varaha River. Etikoppaka was once famous for wooden toys made with lacquer colours.

For over a century, the Etikoppaka bowls, boxes, toys were a part of the everyday life of many villages nearby. The villagers were always found experimenting with producing one or the other handicrafts. Alas, the downfall of the art of the village artisans soon happened due to the flooding of the markets with plastic toys which were colorful and cheap, though not safe. The traditional toys were well-rounded and made with natural dye colors and therefore safe, but there was no demand for them.

Here is when a new story emerged and it was scripted by C. V. Raju, an agricultural graduate and native of the Etikoppaka village. He understood the adverse situation and challenges faced by the artisans and took matters into his own hands and decided to preserve this wonderful craft. He took a stand against artificial dyes and succeeded in reviving the art and restoring its value.

Raju attended some workshops and training courses for making natural dyes for textiles. He then explored the vast world of trees and the secret dyes in their roots, barks, stems, leaves, fruits, seeds and much more. To make his innovative colours reach the right market, Raju started a cooperative association of the artisans called ‘Padmavati Associates’. He developed many new toys for which market was slowly emerging in India and abroad. These toys are gradually making their mark in the market again. The local artisans of Etikoppaka are assisted by the School of Fine Arts, Andhra University, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and M. S. University, Baroda besides individual designers to come up with new designs.

It is the perseverance of our heroes---men and women of incredible India which we must celebrate on this Independence Day, and on all days. They sustain freedom in the truest sense of the term, by making people around them independent and keeping their livelihoods protected.


Do you know of an Indian doctor who charges Rs 20/- as his fee, even today? Well, there is one…

77-year-old Dr Munishwar Chandar Dawar believes in and has actually spent an entire life treating the needy. Dr Dawar started his career in 1971 by joining the Army as a doctor during the Indo-Pak war. In 1972, he started his practice in Jabalpur and he used to charge rupees two from his patients. In March 2022, he increased his fee to twenty rupees. He sees around 200 patients daily at this age and believes firmly that this is how success in life is defined!


All of us have experienced those divine moments when the strings of a Santoor have produced sound that left us mesmerized. Alas! Not many of us know that we have just one last known santoor maker left from Kashmir. This stringed instrument, made with wood, steel and bamboo was found in Jammu & Kashmir and it is there that its last known maker lives who is trying to keep the source of this divine sound alive. Ghulam Muhammad Zaz is 82 years old now, and has been making traditional Kashmiri musical instruments such as Santoor, Rabaab, and Sarangi. Tirelessly working since 1953, he is the last working craftsman in the 8 generations of his family that have preceded him and made these musical instruments.

In the 300-year-old structure which comprises a small room on the first floor, whose mud walls, besmirched with soot and showing cracks here and there, Zaz has been bequeathing life into musical instruments since he was just 12.

Zaz’s masterpieces have been used by globally acclaimed Kashmiri musicians like Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, who for Zaz was not just a client but also a dear friend. Although he laments a little about how our youth is giving up on traditional music in favour of western music, he feels no remorse, nonetheless. Zaz was just 21 when he built his first instrument on his own, a sarangi for a regular customer. Now in his 83rd year, he is the last of those practicing the centuries-old art. His children have taken up different career paths and this skill could very well be dead soon, after eight generations of relentless craftsmanship.

Ghulam Zaz is old and his fingers are swollen and shriveled today, but his spirits stand undaunted.

The more one explores and dwells on such stories of Indians who have devoted their respective lives to some meaningful cause, stronger are the feelings of humility that can envelop us. We must question ourselves as to what have we done in our lives? More important, what can we do in our one lifetime? Must we lament and complain about the state of affairs all around us, as much as we do? The extra-ordinary folks make a different choice in the very same state of affairs. They step into the quagmire and do their bit! They have no time to brood, wonder or complain. They are busy saving lives; livelihoods; communities; other living beings; flora and fauna; art forms; crafts; culture; traditions; and somehow leaving a world better than what it was when they came in.


How many of us have heard of ‘Thang-Ta’?

Thang-Ta is a form of armed combat and refers to a sword and a spear. This Manipuri martial art has been kept alive its guru: Kakchingtabam Shanathoiba Sharma. Born in Thoubal Wangkhem in Thoubal district, Sharma was initiated to this martial art form by his maternal uncle Gurumayum Gourakishore Sharma who himself was a Padma Shri in the field. This martial art was banned by the British and even post-independence, there was decline in this art, even as the number of female earners was negligible. The tireless efforts by this uncle-nephew duo have revived the art as well as interest of the youth therein.

Today, even at his ripe age of 67, Shanathoiba still practices Thang-Ta alone for at least half an hour to 45 minutes daily and he says that it keeps his senses alert and the body light and healthy,

Thang-ta also has an unarmed fighting form known as 'sarit-sarak' which has gained popularity as a sports item in and outside the state.

The above few and thousands of other selfless, EXTRA-ordinary and devoted Indians do not let the beauty and charm of our society and civilization get dim! They ensure that the glory is not lost; that the pride is sustained. In nearly every village; every district and every city, such inspiring tales of awe-inspiring Indians abound in abundance. It is on their shoulders that this edifice of our nation stands. The politicians may think that they are leading India towards a better future, but while they stand, speak, claim and make the broad decisions---it is our heroes at the grassroots who selflessly give their efforts; their spirits; their love and their lives and thus, silently bring about THE CHANGE!

Navniit Gandhi is an academic since 25+ years; a feature writer (300+ articles), and has authored 10 books. Her 10th and most recently authored, published and launched book is titled: NOT MUCH IS AS IT SEEMS Her write-ups can be read at
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Express your comment on this article

Prof Vaishali Bambole
Tuesday, August 15, 2023
The article is very well written.The author very well brought forward the incredible deeds of "India''s unsung Hero''s".
Majority of Indians are family oriented and yes in the midst of their daily struggles they manage to find time to rejoice, rather converting "Pains to pleasure". One can easily find women making preparations for the dinner like cutting of vegetables in the trains or men singing Bhajans.The author Navneet Gandhi is a keen observer and sensitizes people towards tender feelings which is "Being Human".
Humble Salutations to the author!!

Rachana V Askarkar
Tuesday, August 15, 2023
It’s amazing and truly beautiful. Navneet ma’am

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