From selling oranges to winning a Padmashri

Padmashri award winner Harekala Hajabba being felicitated by the district administration during the Republic Day celebrations in Mangaluru on Sunday.

Padmashri award winner Harekala Hajabba being felicitated by the district administration during the Republic Day celebrations in Mangaluru on Sunday.  

Harekala Hajabba did not make much of his presence at the Republic Day celebrations at the Nehru Maidan here on Sunday. He had been invited by the district administration for felicitations as he was among others in the State chosen for the Padmashri award.

Like during the earlier felicitations and award ceremonies, Mr. Hajabba, a wayside orange seller who founded a government school in his village out of donations collected, funds from the government and his contributions, was more focussed about the school. While thanking elected representatives and officials who greeted him at the Nehru Maidan, Mr. Hajabba was seeking their help to get a pre-university college for his village. At present, the village has a government school for classes 1 to 10. He wanted the help of the Revenue Department for a survey of 1.3 acres of land purchased by him out of the ₹ 5 lakh cash prize he received for the school.

He did not want the children of his village to have difficulty in speaking English as he has faced. “This is a dream I still continue to pursue. Whatever cash awards I get, I spend them on the school,” he said.

His selection for the Padmashri, Mr. Hajabba said, came as a surprise. “I was in a queue at the ration shop to get 35 kg rice at noon (on Saturday) when I received the call from New Delhi. I could not understand much as the caller spoke in Hindi. I handed over my mobile phone to autorickshaw driver Abbas who was standing nearby. He also could not understand much but only said that I had been conferred with the Padmashri award,” he said.

To get confirmation, Mr. Hajabba said, he came all the way to Mangaluru to meet a senior journalist, whom he knows. It was at 4 p.m. when he returned home that he got confirmation about his award. “All these awards are being given by God. I did not imagine that a person from a poor background will be selected for such a coveted award,” Mr. Hajabba said, with all humbleness

To a question whether his usual white shirt and white dhoti will change when he goes to receive the award, he said, “No way.” Mr. Hajabba added: “As I have done earlier, I will go in my usual attire.”

Hajabba thanked the Union and State governments, the elected representatives, officials and media for supporting his cause.

Harekala Hajabba, who is in his 60s now, has been eking out a living by selling oranges at the Central Market here. One day, a foreigner asked him the price of a kg of orange. He could not answer the query as he did not know English. Mr. Hajabba did not want the children of his Harekala village, on the outskirts of Mangaluru, to face a similar situation and decided to start a primary school.

The school was started in a madrasa in June 1999. Later, it became a government school where classes till 10 are being held now. Mr. Hajabba has built the school with grants from the government and from donors. Initially, he contributed ₹ 5,000, which was his savings from selling oranges. He had ensured that the school got more than one acre land.

He bagged the CNN IBN’s Real Heros Award in 2009. The ₹ 5 lakh cash award he received was used to purchase land for the school.

Mr. Hajabba’s achievement has become a subject of study in under-graduate courses in Mangalore, Davangere and Kuvempu universities. In addition, Kannada-medium schools in Kerala have been teaching about him for Class 8 and Class 10 students.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 1:15:41 PM |

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