When an Illiterate Fruit Seller Built a School: Dreams amidst Hard Times

In the outskirts of Mangalore, an illiterate fruit seller dedicated his time and savings to build up the only school in his village that not only promised the light of education to many but also became the symbol of people’s agency.

Sundaresha D. S. | The New Leam

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] am pursuing my PhD in Jawaharlal Nehru University. Mangalore is the area that I have chosen for my field study. Conflict and its implications on the phenomenon of education is my theme of research. As I visited various education institutions and met teachers and professors in Mangalore, everybody suggested me to meet the founder of a special educational institution His name is Harekala Hajabba. I went to his home to fulfill my curiosity and know his specialty. He humbly invited me into his house. He offered me four bananas and a tender coconut with utmost love and affection. When he saw me he touched the ground and prayed to God with folded hands.

Harekala Hajabba stands testimony to the courage of individual agency / Photograph: Sundaresha DS/The New Leam

Harekala is a village which is located on the outskirts of Mangalore. Hajabba is his name. He was an orange fruit seller. He used to carry baskets of oranges on his head and sell them on the streets of Mangalore. His daily income never crossed 100 Rs. Mangalore is a port city of multi-cultural, multi lingual, multi religious people and thus people from different corners of the world come to visit the city.

One can witness people from various countries. As usual Hajabba was selling orange fruits on the street of Mangalore when two foreign ladies came to him to purchase oranges. Unable to communicate in the local tongue, the women asked him in English ‘How much is this for?’ Being illiterate and with no knowledge of English, Hajabba could not understand and could not answer them. The two ladies looked at him, they asked him a couple of times still he could not respond to them, so they left and this made Hajabba embarrassed.

Since then Hajabba became restless, the question ‘How much is this for?’ was reverberating in his mind all the time. He asserted the fact that since there was no school in his village he could not get educated so he thought he should start a school. 

We should all remember that he had no home to stay, he had no reserve of money and his sustenance was in a fragile shape, he did not know good Kannada and he did not know to read. Yet he decided to start a school. He went to the education department to get permission to establish a school. He recounts that when he went to the education department, officials and local people mocked at his idea to start a school. He did not wear sophisticated clothes to attract others, every day he used to visit the education department and so one day an official listened to him. Keeping in mind that his village had no school they gave him permission.

Since he was an ardent follower of Islam and associated with the neighborhood mosque, he requested the authorities to allow him to begin the school classes in the mosque premises for some time. The mosque stood in support and granted the permission. Once a new building was sanctioned for the school, the classes shifted to a more dedicated space.

After four years, a state level newspaper brought the news of Hajabbas’s achievement before the people of Karnataka. As it was an illiterate and poor man who started a school it captured the imagination of many people.

The state government, the newspapers, and local businessmen donated and supported the school. A contractor constructed a house for him free of cost. The local MLA constructed a road to his house. Local school founders and banks donated money to construct a larger school building. Dr. Veerendra Hegade provides teachers assistance to the school. Today, he has won hundreds of awards for his commitment. He was invited to Arab countries and felicitated for his contributions.

When he started a school there was no other school in the neighborhood locality and everyone used to take admission. Now English medium schools have come up, so he expressed his apprehension as the strength of students in his own school has been declining. He intends to start with a college in the next couple of years as he waits for more young people to be interested in education.

The point is that despite being illiterate, poor and with meek social networks – Hajabba could succeed in giving birth to a school. One should give credits to his courage to establish a school, the media’s role and local people’s efforts towards this endeavor.

He claims that on the street people used to donate Rs 10, 20 and 100 to run his school. He appreciates the fact that the public always support a good cause. Today Harekala Hajabba has become a celebrity in the city.

People keep visiting him and taking interviews with him. But on the other hand is the fact his school might close down because of the decline of student strength. He expresses apprehension that he invested all his money on the school and he donated his own land to the building of the school. He is concerned that since he has put all at stake, the prospects of the school should look more promising. He has been a staunch supporter of education and it was his commitment to the building of the school that made everything feasible. Let his commitment and struggle inspire many creative individuals across the nation.

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