Gandhian on wheels
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
He can be termed, without doubt, as Gujarat’s best ambassador of tourism. Donning a Gandhi topi, a khadi kurta and carrying the Mahatma’s message: “Be the change” on his autorickshaw, Udaysinh Ramanlal Jadav believes in the principle of ‘atithi devo bhav’ and goes that extra mile to treat his customers as God. Born and brought up in Ahmedabad, with a family of 10: parents, three kids, wife, brother, sister and her son, Udaybhai comes from a very middle class family with a load of responsibilities. It takes a lot of guts to jump into something like this for a person with this kind of a family background. But his conviction of belief, determination to add love to his work, and pleasant experiences when customers hear about his idea, drives him to accomplish his mission.
Udaybhai, as he is known, was like any other rickshaw driver for 10 years. But one day, on one of his regular trips to the Gandhi Ashram, he saw volunteers of the NGO Manav Sadhna rendering selfless service to the needy. Inspired by them, he decided to follow the principles of the Father of the Nation in word and deed. Udaybhai started “Ahmedabad no Rickshawalo” on 21 October 2010, the auspicious day of Dassera, with the concept of gift-economy in mind. The idea behind gift-economy is that someone before you has paid for your travel; now you have to pay-it-forward for subsequent passengers. However, the most impressive thing about Udaybhai is that he doesn’t charge his customers according to the meter, because the meter always reads ZERO! After every trip, he provides the passenger with a self-written greeting card-cum-envelope, which reads ‘Pay from your heart’, in which the passenger places the amount of his/her choice.
When asked if it doesn’t pinch him, he says, “I have no complaints. Whatever I earn at the end of the day, I use it to run my household. I will continue to treat my guests with respect and make them feel at home.”
To make his customers’ journey comfortable, Udaybhai has a mini library in the auto with books on heritage, tourist places and pilgrimage sites to visit in the city, besides English and Gujarati newspapers. An MP3 player provides his passengers with a choice of songs to listen to and there’s a small fan for the summer months. Hungry? There are two boxes containing snacks and drinking water! A dustbin to throw the remains has also been provided. If the journey at night is long, he has installed a portable light for your reading pleasure.
The exterior of the auto also attracts attention. On the front is painted, ‘Love all’, while the mudguard displays the religious symbols of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian communities, which Udaybhai says “is to convey the message of secularism”. On the side he has hung a board that says in Hindi and English, “Namaste and welcome to Ahmedabad. I am Uday, at your service. I will take you on a journey of Ahmedabad’s streets and across its bustling bridges to experience Gandhi’s legacy and architectural masterpieces…” The message ends with his mobile number and the website www.movedbylove.org.
When asked why he does this, his response is always, “I just want to help people and give them a good experience. If people don’t help each other, then who will?”
The Good Samaritan has a donation box, Akshay Patra, in his auto in which passengers can deposit money; he puts a number of coins daily in the box which he uses to help needy people. He refuses money from disabled, poor, and elderly people.
To improve his service, Udaybhai has a suggestion book for his passengers. Here’s what some passengers wrote in the book:
“This day I have found something new, which I have never seen before. An auto that has newspapers, magazines, MP3 player, reading light and other impressive facilities. The driver is well-mannered and polite, in contrast to the other auto drivers in our city.” —Pravin Jhankat, Rajkot
“The slogans were really inspiring. The driver was very polite. Udaybhai, you are a real Indian! Let every Indian keep an akshay patra like you.” —Dr Girish Panchal, Ahmedabad
Quoting a pleasant and memorable experience, Udaybhai said: “Once, while I was returning after dropping off a passenger, I saw a blind man trying to cross the road. But he wasn’t able to do so due to heavy traffic. So I went to him and asked to hop into the auto. After taking him to the other side of the street, I asked him where he wanted to go. He said, “No thanks, I will reach on my own.”
He was probably hesitant since he thought that I would charge him. After insisting, he said that he wanted to reach his blind men’s hostel. He told me his entire life story and I shared mine with him. Talking about all this, we reached his hostel. The hostel warden came out running, worried since it was unusual for students to come in a private auto till the hostel gates. However, he was pleasantly surprised once he came to know about the concept and invited me for a cup of tea.” These are the kind of experiences that keep Udaybhai’s spirits alive in spite of all the financial hiccups.
Udaybhai’s beliefs and principles are contagious. His wife now prepares dhoklas and lassi for passengers. Other auto drivers, motivated by him, have transformed their autos for a friendlier experience.
His compassion and generosity have seen him make it into the news several times and he has received awards such as Red FM’s Bade Dilwale, the Rotary Club of Ahmedabad Award, and Baroda Management Award. Celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Chetan Bhagat have flown to Ahmedabad just to meet him. He gets invited to schools and to entrepreneur meets to talk about his efforts and motivate them.
Udaybhai now has a van to address the growing needs of “comfort travel”, calling it ‘Sabarmati no Saarthi’. This too is run on the concept of gift economy, and has the same facilities as his auto, including clothes for people who need them.
Udaybhai believes that, at the end of the day, it is the absolute peace of mind and not money that will bring him a good night’s sleep.
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Major (Retd.) Pradeep Khare is a veteran of the Indian Army. He has authored two inspirational books Real Inspiring Stories and Unsung Heroes. He writes a motivational blog Fragrance Of Success and runs a motivational YouTube channel Guldasta. He can be reached at email@example.com