Have you heard of the 79 year old, ‘Glacier man’ Chewang Norphel, who makes artificial glaciers in Leh? Or silver haired, soft spoken Hasnath Mansur, who has been helping underprivileged Muslim women realise their constitutional and Qur’anic rights? Or for that matter, Subhashini Mistry, who lost her husband because doctors refused to treat him due to lack of money? Subhashini cooked, mopped floors, polished shoes and everything in between while raising four children with a resolve to build a hospital where healthcare would be free.
Mahesh Bhat brings these heroes and their stories to us through his book “Unsung”. Quoting from the book
Actually they were all there, right in our midst. They were working with a singular focus of making a difference to the society around us, while we partied; they were holding our social fabric together.
Mahesh is an acclaimed photojournalist who has worked with magazines and publications across the globe. To name a few, he’s been commissioned by Fortune, Newsweek Marie Claire, New York Times Magazine and The Guardian.
While there wasn’t a eureka moment or an epiphany that led to the book, there were a couple of incidents that left a lasting impression on him.
In October of 1986, while he was still in college, he was travelling to Delhi to show his work to senior photographers, the likes of T S Satyan, Raghu Rai, S Paul. A lady with a baby got into the second class reserved train compartment from Nagpur. She didn’t have a reserved seat, just had her ticket. There was a huge fracas and some passengers demanded that she get off the train. But some others noticed that she had a baby with her and let her stay. Curious to know what was going on, Mahesh spoke to the lady and came to know that she had lost her mother in the Bhopal gas tragedy and she was going to see her dying father. “I asked her if she’d received any compensation and she said – She got Rs 10,000 but more than half was eaten up by the people who disbursed it. It just stayed with me about how things were.”His career took him to places far and wide where he met people who were moving mountains and making an impact. “They touch you and me even though it might not be directly but they do. They never are recognized. I was also doing a lot of advertisement work at that time and I could see the contrast between the two worlds.”
When I started this off, there was no social media really. There was no avenue to publish stories of people who have contributed to the society against personal odds. Even today, the power lists that come out, most powerful men/women… they’re all either business who are earning a lot of money or for themselves or sons or daughters of business people.
“A book has permanence and can change owners easily – new, old, gifted, passed on, second hand, etc. I have 85 year old books on photography.” Mahesh cites an example of how books score over technology.
I had done a book on Karnataka and a CD to go with it in 1997. While the technology can almost be labelled as prehistoric in the digital world, the book is still a source of joy to many. Books stay relevant through the passage of time.
What was the criteria for the stories that made the final cut? “Firstly, they must be at their cause for at least 10 yers. Secondly, they should have achieved something great against great personal odds. And lastly, the impact had to be pan India and secular in nature.”
The only motivation for the book was to highlight the heroes amongst us and bring their prodigious work to the forefront. “And if that helped them to raise money in the process. What I know of, the book has raised over 90 lakh for the causes mentioned.” In the book, Mahesh provides the addresses and the phone numbers of the people profiled and that helps people reach out to these extraordinary people. “They kept telling me because of you so and so came and gave us money.”
Citing an example Mahesh tells us about his conversation with Humility hospital’s Subhashini Mistry’s son Ajoy. “After the book was published, Ajoy says that it helped them get about 30 lakhs”. Even Satyamev Jayate found them.
Mahesh is now onto his second book. The premise of this one is the same with a tweaked format. This time there are six other photographers and several writers on board. For every story about a hero or a group of heroes there is a first person account by the photographer and then by the hero themselves.
Mahesh elucidates, “One of the people to be featured is Javed Ahmed Tak from Anantnag district in Kashmir. He became paraplegic after a bullet hit him during a struggle with terrorists who had come to kidnap his brother. When he came out of the hospital, he decided to setup a school to teach the differently abled children computer and life skills. He also went to the J&K high court and helped in bringing about a bill that gave special status to the differently abled.” And this is testament to why Javed truly is an extraordinary person – He willingly took the children of the known terrorists as student into his school. Javed told Mahesh “They’re just children, not terrorists. And they have to be given a chance to make a life.” The book also encapsulates complimentary essays one of which is by a Buddhist monk on the joy of forgiveness.The book is now ready for publication and Mahesh has turned to crowd funding platforms to raise money for the printing. Click here to contribute.
At YourStory, we believe that voices may get lost but stories stay for forever. We wish Mahesh the very best in his endeavour to tell these stories to the world.