Over the last few days, I have been in Ahmedabad, India, kicking off my tour for The Corridor of Uncertainty. It’s incredible. I’ve already experienced so many touching incidents. One such incident that I know I will remember for the rest of my life actually just occurred yesterday; I wanted to share that beautiful story and the lessons I ultimately took away from it with you.
While I was walking around the city of Ahmedabad with my father, an 18-year old boy named Babu Rajwadi approached us, asking if he could polish our shoes in exchange for two rupees. For those of you who may not know, two rupees is equivalent to roughly $0.03. Of course, both my father and I agreed to let him polish our shoes. Two rupees is close to nothing, and I’m a firm believer in helping out those who are less fortunate than I am, especially when they are working hard to positively change their futures.
As soon as both my father and I nodded in approval for Babu to polish our shoes, a look of excitement flashed across his face. He was endlessly proud at his success in landing a new “job.” Not wanting to let the opportunity pass, he quickly pulled out a broken brush and a tiny can of black shoe polish from a rolled up grocery bag in his pocket. It was obvious that Babu was dirt poor.
Poverty in India is pretty widespread. It is not uncommon for people to ask you to give them money in exchange for carrying out random tasks. There was something different about this kid from everyone else I had seen in the past, though. Babu started thanking us for the opportunity we had given him as he started polishing the shoes. He spent a solid five to ten minutes making sure that he did a thorough job of removing every single mark on each shoe. During that time, we chatted with Babu about his life.
It turns out that the boy had lost his father just a few years earlier, due to health problems. As a result, Babu was officially considered the “head of his household.” He had a mother, three brothers, and two sisters. He was the oldest out of his brothers and sisters, so they all looked up to him and relied on him for support. His entire family was struggling financially. Yet, he had a vision of one day buying a special box filled with all types of shoe laces, threads, and colored polishes so he could offer his services to more customers and make additional money to support his family.
Out of curiosity, my father and I asked Babu how much the special box of shoe materials would cost. He practically had the number memorized.
“900 rupees,” Babu spurted out. I was sure I heard the number wrong. “Did you say 900 rupees?” I asked.
900 rupees is only about $13.20 – basically what the average American spends on a meal at a restaurant. “How much of the 900 rupees do you have?” we inquired.
“I make about 50 rupees [less than $1] total every day, and I have to use that money to pay for my bus fare and buy food for my family, so I’m not able to save anything,” Babu responded.
“How much more money could you make if you had that special box full of shoe materials?”
“I could easily make up to 300 rupees per day. Right now, most people don’t trust me to polish their shoes since I only have one broken brush.”
Without any further hesitation, my father and I made up our minds to buy the shoe materials that Babu needed to expand his business. I honestly thought Babu was going to break down into tears when we told him what we planned to do. We all went together to a small shoe store and bought everything he needed. Before we parted ways, Babu also asked me if he could see a dollar bill from the United States. He had never seen one, and he thought it would be a great gift for his mother.
After being able to spend that much time with Babu and hear his story, I have no doubt that he will be successful in the future. His work ethic was unique. If you ask me, a $14 investment to potentially turn somebody’s life around is worth every single penny.
What I thought was most remarkable about Babu’s story was the fact that I did not hear him complain once in the time that we spent with him. Even when he was saying that his father passed away or that he had very little money, not once did he even show signs of negative thinking. Instead, he seemed grateful for everything he had. He talked about how amazing his mom was. He bragged about how great his younger brother was becoming at polishing shoes. I think most people in his situation would sit back and feel sorry about how unlucky they were.
Babu lived such a simple and humble life, but one filled with the most happiness I have seen in a very long time. I think that’s what differentiates the Western world from him. Most people in the West think that they can gain happiness from high-paying jobs, selfish careers, or artificial relationships. The truth, however, is that happiness is right in front of us. Happiness is the simple things in our lives that we so often take for granted. What did you take away from Babu’s story?