In the Shiraguppi village of Karnataka, an unassuming old man works his days away in a small cycle repair shop. However, what most might miss at a single glance is that the wrinkly hands which fix the vehicles are the same ones which have forged friendships across villages!
Balu Gaikwad, 84, owns one of the oldest shops in the village. Balu was in class 7 when he dropped out of school as there were no high schools within 7 km of nearby villages. At 15, his father asked him to join the army but he couldn’t due to age limitations.
A year later, his uncle took him to Sangli town where he worked at a grocery shop. “I used to get Rs 45 monthly, back then,” he told The Better India. Upon the suggestion of his brother, he started a cycle repair shop. “I started the cycle repairing shop in my home. However, I didn’t know how to repair them. The only thing I used to do was to dismantle the cycle, observe the parts and assemble them. A few people would yell at me if the cycle didn’t work properly and I would listen to them patiently. I kept repeating the process, and that’s how I learned the art,” he said.
In the early 70s, after he had moved his shop to the bus stop area, Balu was approached by a ninth grader named Ramagonda. He wanted to rent a cycle from him. “I knew that Ramgonda was from a poor family and his education would have stopped had someone not given him the cycle,” Balu told the Better India.
“I told him to return the cycle only after completing his graduation and later, completely forgot about it,” he recalled. The same Ramagonda got an administrative job at a high school nearby. During his farewell ceremony, he invited Balu and said, “It’s only because of you that my life changed completely. Had I not completed my education, I would have never got the opportunity to work in a school.”
“Earlier there were no vehicles, so the only means of transport was cycling. People used to wait four hours for the others who had taken Balu’s cycles to come back. A lot of these people couldn’t afford to pay the rent (which was Re 1 in the early 70s), so they would promise to pay it the next month,” Ramagonda further explained to The Better India.
Balu never asked those people to pay him back but they did. “Everyone who promised to pay me later kept their promise and today, all of them have become good friends of mine. At least ten old people who used to take my cycles come to the shop daily,” he said.
Cycle repairing wasn’t the only thing he was known for, Balu never shied away from helping anyone who he came across on his path. Three decades ago when a farmer named Baburao was on his journey to Pandharpur, Balu came as a beacon of hope. “It was raining heavily, and Baburao had no place to stay. It was late in the night when I met him. I asked him to stay in my shop, arranged for the food and gave him some rupees for any emergency,” Balu said.
Baburao never forgot the kindness and visited his shop every year till he passed away.
“A lot of people have asked him to retire, but he shows up at the shop every day at 8 am. We get all the cycles repaired from him even today,” said a farmer from Manjariwadi village.
Today, his son, 53, helps him at the shop but despite that Balu works for 12 hours each day without fail.