The story of Jaipur Foot and how Fulen got his feet back…

In February 2013, I was invited to be a panel speaker at the Sustainability Summit of a Management training Institute in Delhi. The session was titled, “Sustainability and Entrepreneurship: Turn ideas into projects, and projects into successful businesses”.

It was my first experience of being one in such a gathering and on such a subject, speaking as I was on my own young start up venture….I was humbled and nervous, sharing as I was the stage with people many years elder to me, ‘social entrepreneurs’ who were much more experienced than me.

Little did I imagine, that my perspective about the idea of ‘helping people’ was going to change after this evening spent listening to each of these people.

As is the case mostly, they all had their own personal stories, that fueled their passion to set up their respective organisations, they have their own reasons and motivations and inspirations. Similar to all of them, I had mine, as to why I started ‘Jaagruti‘ and our Waste Paper Recycling Initiative.

But this post is not about my story, it is about the realizations that dawned on me about life and about how I could devote my time to help Fulen Ram, the feet-less cobbler, whom I wrote about in my last post, get his feet back.

The spark within me was ignited after listening to my fellow panelist, Padma Bhushan Mr. Devendra Raj Mehta, who is a retired IAS officer and has held many a coveted posts in his illustrious career. He has been the former chairman of SEBI and the Deputy Governor of Reserve Bank of India (RBI). I learnt my first lesson the moment I was being introduced to him, he said, “when I die, no one would remember me because of all the positions I held or the money I earned…that is not the way I would want to be remembered either.”

My first lesson observing him was a lesson in humility. Truly successful people are humble and modest, they don’t fluff about their stuff! Mr. Mehta carried no ego of being a bureaucrat advising Prime Ministers of the country! He carried no airs about him for all his accomplishments that I was yet to learn.

Then, what would Mr. Devendra Raj Mehta like to be remembered as? He would be remembered and respected by those 1.3 million handicapped people across the world (and even the friends and families of these very people), who have been provided with with artificial limbs/calipers and other aids and appliances by his organisation “Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS) Jaipur“, which he founded in 1975, making it perhaps the largest organisation for Handicapped People in this world.

These appliances have not only given these handicapped people mobility, but also something the so badly needed, their self-respect, independence and dignity.

And the most unique aspect is that BMVSS doesn’t charge for their services and follows a free-for-all model, which is being debated. Recently, Forbes India did a story on the man too and Mr. D.R Mehta said that, “It [change in model] will happen only over my dead body“.

Captivated, I heard Mr. Devendra Raj Mehta narrate through the slides in his presentation, with his organisation coming to the aid of mine-blast victims in wartorn area of the world, be it Sri Lanka or African nations, young children in Iraq who had been disabled (for no fault of theirs) in an air strike over the football field they were all playing in…of the 11 kids playing in that field that day, 8 died and the remaining 3 young boys lost their legs…what could have been more tragic that now these young boys, now rendered limbless (with a lost leg each), could no longer play the sport (football) they were playing when this fateful attack happened. And then engulfed as I was imagining the misery of these young boys in Iraq after listening to their story, Mr. Mehta shared his next slide of how his organisation’s landmark invention, “The Jaipur Foot and Knee” (which is listed amongst the Top 50 Best Inventions of 2009 by The Time Magazine) had these boys up and running again and also playing football :).  The organisation has even held camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Guardian, London (January 17, 2002), and Dawn, Karachi (January 19, 2002) wrote“As aid pours into Afghanistan, a special consignment from India is probablybringing more happiness to Kabul than the rest of the world’s cargo combined….The consignment consists of 1,000, pieces of the Jaipur Foot, a prosthesis named after the city where it was developed in 1970. It was taken on a special Indian Air Force plane to Kabul……As goodwill gestures go, it has probably earned India more appreciation than any amount of diplomacy…. Along with the consignment went a team from Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS), a Jaipur charity that provides artificial legs for the poor. The Jaipur Foot is a household name among people who live in the world’s many war zones. From Afghanistan to Angola, the below-the-knee limb is famous for transforming the lives of millions of landmine amputees.”

Another revelation that I had was that most of the people who loose their limbs and are rendered handicapped in mindless wars that are being played across the world, are women and children.

Time magazine, USA (issue of fall 1997) wrote:
” People who live inside the world’s many war zones from Afghanistan to Rwanda may never have heard of New York or Paris but they are likely to know a town in northern India called Jaipur. Jaipur is famous in strife-torn areas as the birthplace of an extraordinary prosthesis or artificial limb known as the Jaipur Foot, that has revolutionized life for millions of landmine amputees. The beauty of the Jaipur Foot is its lightness and mobility — those who wear it can run, climb trees and pedal bicycles — and its low price.”

After learning all of the above, it was now my turn to make a difference in someone whom I had just encountered some time back, the feet-less Fulen Ram. I wanted to help him get his feet back.

The more we feel we have the ability to change, the more obliged we feel to do whatever we can to make it happen…

I decided to go and meet this cobbler…and check with him if he would be interested. I don’t form first impressions, if I had, then Fulen would have come across as a tough rigid, grumpy person who hardly smiles and is thus unapproachable. (I suggest now you think of the first impressions you make on seeing/meeting people the first time…)

I decided to give it a try and approach him with my question and offer to help. I kept wondering in my head what would be the worst thing I could encounter..the worst I thought was that he would have answered me, “No thank you madam, I don’t need your help or the Jaipur Foot. I am fine and I am not interested”.

This however was not to be for I was well-prepared for my second meeting with Fulen (the first was just a casual encounter which resulted in the first story on him).

And I was also certain about one thing, that if I was to succeed I would have to give in the one thing that is most precious and personal, “my time”, for all the other things, the Jaipur Foot and its installation on Fulen would be ”free”, thanks to Dr.Mehta’s model. I, however, had also made up my mind that I will make my own little monetary contribution to Dr.Mehta’s effort and BMVSS, after I succeed in mine and get Fulen back on his feet, literally if I may write it so.

My second lesson in this journey was to be: Never underestimate the importance of passion, preparation, persistence, patience and practice.

I did my homework before meeting Fulen with my ‘ídea’. From the brochure that I received from Mr. D.R Mehta while interacting with him over that summit I met him in, I found out the number of their Delhi branch office, I called them up, spoke to a well-mannered soft-spoken gentleman on the other end and told him what I intended to do, I asked him what all was I required to bring, other than the  ‘patient’. They asked me to ensure that the person whom I was bringing along, carried with him his Government approved Identity Card and a photocopy of the same. The directions to the Centre, how long will it take, what time should I come are the other questions I checked on from the staff member at the BMVSS Delhi Centre…

Armed with all the information, I decided to meet Fulen that evening of 3rd April 2013…chirpily and hesitantly I introduced the idea to him that I was interested in taking him to the Delhi Centre of BMVSS and help him get rid of those wooden shoes he was currently wearing as his legs and get them replaced with the acclaimed, light and nimble ‘Jaipur Foot’. He hesitated and said he had a problem to it. What was the problem, I asked…he shared that if the foot is not made as per the length he wants then he has problems standing up on his own and would need a person’s support or crutches and he hated the idea of relying on either a person or crutches…he simply hated it, he hated being dependent on anyone for that matter!

I too deeply value my independence and thus, could very well understand every word of what Fulen meant. I reassured him I will be his mediator at the Centre and will speak to the Staff therein to ensure he gets the best he could from the appliances they had on offer there…I listened to him with attention, and as I did so, learnt more about his fears, his joys and also more about his life, his friends, his family, his kids and all this helped me understand him better.

There is a difference between listening and merely hearing.

It takes a lot more energy to listen to someone than it does to hear them out. Because I had read somewhere that when one listens and not merely hears, one is using both his/her ears and brains to convert those words into a comprehensible form, based on which you can understand the other person and even emote appropriately. If you completely listen, then you risk completely opening yourself up too. And that, in the end, as they say, is probably the scariest and the most exhilarating thing you’ll ever hear, for most people actually don’t prefer to open up and be honest and expressive, as that will expose their vulnerabilities….I am not one of them though.

We, i.e. me and Fulen fixed up on our day to visit the Delhi Centre, 6th April 2013 it was to be. We divided our roles and tasks. I would pick him up and take him there in my car at 9.15am so that we can reach the Centre by 10am, and Fulen was to remember getting his Photo ID Card along and also a photocopy of the same.

The day arrived, I reached as promised at Fulen’s shop. He was surprised, I guess its an irony of our times that people don’t trust people and thus, are often surprised when people keep their promises…anyways Fulen smiled and readied himself. I checked with him who will look after his shop in his absence, he said, “God would”…He went and spoke to the Guard at the security gate of the nearby residential society and told him he will be away for a few hours…I smiled and opened the door of my car to let him in. He had forgotten his ID Card, I think he never expected me to come. I smiled again and we drove to his home, in nearby Shakurpur Basti area, where he got down and got his card, he then asked a neighboring kid to get a photocopy done off the same. Armed with all we required, we reached the Delhi Centre of BMVSS, which is located in the Ahimsa Bhawan complex at Rajender Nagar, Pusa Road. The rest of this story can be best shared in pictures. Surf across the gallery below. Place the mouse/cursor over each image to read through the caption that describes those pictures and the events around it in my words.


…Believe that you can make a difference. A life having spent done nothing, despite having the ability, is a life wasted.

Think of any action that you could do in your neighborhood to make your own life fruitful and may be, even beneficial to others.

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