Like thousands all over the country, Vraj Patel wanted to join the Indian Administrative Service. And, like thousands (minus a few dozen every year), he failed to become one, instead managing to join the Central Excise and Customs as an inspector. But, unlike the faceless thousands like him, he has done much better. The Jetpur (Saurashtra) boy now helps others realise their dreams by running a public library for them. He does not want others to fail for lack of resources and knowhow, he says.
Patel’s library on the busy Dadar East Station Road also has medical and management students dropping in. The more the merrier, says the man who helps others succeed. “I decided to open a library for students who wanted to appear for competitive examinations but did not have resources in terms of books or guidance. I do not want them to repeat my mistakes,” Patel says.
Success to him now means hearing the likes of Pune (rural) superintendent of police Vishwas Nangre-Patil publicly acknowledge that it was Patel’s library that made him what he is. Patel has, somehow, managed to turn the tables on destiny.
But it was not easy. He has had to sink in a mini fortune into the Maharashi Dayanand Foundation Library that, since 1996, has come to the aid of 10,000 students and evolved into a 50,000-book affair over merely 1,100 square feet; the books span 25 subjects.
The library charges only those who can afford to pay Rs 2,500 a year (that is approximately half of the 150 students it has on its rolls now). “This way, we cross-subsidise the other half who cannot pay. The annual outgoing, including purchase of new books and maintenance, is more than Rs 1.5 lakh,” Patel adds. There also have been years when Patel has had to depend on wellwishers and pay the shortfall out of his pocket. The library is well-stocked, even in terms of quality. Many geology and medicine books are priced at over Rs 8,000.
But there have been bad experiences. Students have disappeared with books, prompting Patel to charge a deposit of Rs 250 that has now been hiked to Rs 1000. “Books not returned will add up to 5,000 but one cannot go on hiking the deposit. I try to help those who cannot pay the deposit,” he adds.
Patel’s enterprise has now moved beyond being a library. Experts teach IAS aspirants on Sundays, when it is open virtually round the clock instead of the usual two-hour morning and evening shifts.
His wife and son are okay with the long hours he spends at the library. “They actually help me,” Patel, proud that his 21-year-old computer engineer son also tapped the library for his exams, said.