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Age 73, feels 37

One of Delhi's senior citizens Nanak Kohli has spent his life making money and is now busy spending it to educate the city's underprivileged children.

Nanak Kohli... One in a million. Photo: Anu Pushkarna.

AT 73, when people think of leading a life of retirement and tranquillity, Nanak Kohli is doing just the opposite. The multi-millionaire is adding a new chapter to his life. This time, the pages are not strewn with money-making ventures. Rather it is filled with chortles of slum children and smiles of their relieved parents. The spry septuagenarian, who had been "busy making money all his life," is now busy spending it - all for the cause of Delhi's underprivileged children.

"It is more difficult to give away money than make money," he laughs, saying it.

However, parting with a part of the fortune was easier than finding a right cause where the money could be steered. And once the cause was picked, that of educating the slum children of the city, the quid just spilled from the loaded closet of the businessman. He set up a trust in memory of his parents.

"I cannot take this money with me to the next world," he says and the money "which keeps rolling in," is guided towards running balwadis (crèches) for the slum children aged between three and five. The venture has just been a year old and already, 50 balwadis are functioning.

"The classes are held from 9 a.m. till 1 p.m. During that time, the children are taken from the back of their mothers. Mothers get time to go to work," says Kohli, whose trust charges Rs.15 a month as admission-fee.

"I was told unless I charge them, they won't even come. Because they are paying they have a sense of ownership and as such, they will make sure they make worth of their money."

Small milestone

Adds Kohli, "We give the children a nutritious meal and also uniform, shoes, slates, stationery. There is one teacher and a helper for a group of 40 children. By the year end, I plan to open 100 balwadis for such children."

However, this idea is just a small milestone in the dream journey of nimble Kohli. He shares for the first time, "I want to open a high-class school where 75 per cent of the seats will be for such children." The idea, which is still in the nascent stage, germinated from the attitude of public schools. "Though 20 per cent of the seats should be for the underprivileged classes, they don't allocate even one," says Kohli, appalled at their attitude.

"It has become a kind of mission for me to get these children in such schools," says Kohli, who is also doing his home state Punjab proud by empowering rural women there. He has set up computer training centres and plans to create a cottage industry of computer centres.

And, he is reaping the rewards already. Not in monetary terms but in instances like being the first person to be phoned by three sisters of a slum when a telephone connection was installed, and in seeing a shy, depressed girl with drooping head now talking without inhibitions by making eye contact. Reiterates Kohli, the remark made by the chairman of his trust, the noted writer Khushwant Singh, "In the last 25 years that I have known Nanak, I have never seen him happier than he is now."

"Trust me I am 37. This is giving me more energy than I had before," says a radiant Kohli.


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