Nazeer Ahmed, the auto driver who offers free rides to devotees bringing Ganesha Idol homeShruthi Mohan
A follower of Islam, Nazeer aka Nanaji is redefining communal harmony by offering free rides to families bringing the Ganesha idol home as a part of the Ganesh Chaturthi festivities for the last two years.
“Naam anek hai, par bhagwan ek hai, sir ji,” says this auto-rickshaw driver to the passenger who hailed his auto at the nearby market. Clad in a white dhoti, sitting in the backseat, the passenger has his arms wrapped around a Ganesha idol. Grabbing all the bags filled with fruits and puja items, he grins wide and gives his regards to the driver before getting off the auto. Well, that’s how one of the many rides in Nazeer Ahmed M Quereshi aka Nanaji’s auto looks like, this festive season.
A follower of Islam, Nanaji is redefining communal harmony through a thoughtful gesture — he has been offering free rides to families bringing the Ganesha idol home as a part of the Ganesh Chaturthi festivities for the last two years. The camera-shy driver turns away when he realizes he is being interviewed and says,
This is my way of joining the celebration. But, I don’t think I am doing anything great. None of what I do is for media attention, so don’t make me famous, quips Nanaji.
Tracing his roots
The 40-year-old, whose only means of income is the auto, is a native of , Dharwad, in Karnataka. Nanaji lives there with his wife and three children. He grew up in Hyderabad under the aegis of Syed Zameer Hussain Tawakali, who always preached humanity over religion. Tawakali’s belief in serving the needy regularly with small gestures impacted Nanaji. When he moved to Dharwad from Hyderabad after marriage, he put all these morals into practice.
In Dharwad, the auto meter rate is not religiously followed which allows the local auto-rickshaw drivers to charge exorbitant prices. To avoid these expenses, most commuters use the ‘shared auto’ and divide the fare amongst themselves. The locals of the city predominantly use local buses and tempos for traveling.
However, Nanaji’s rides are extremely cheap. So much so that he charges only Rs 10 every ride irrespective of the distance. Speaking about his daily customers, Nanaji adds,
My only intent is to help those who get into my auto every day for a ride. I see them on a daily basis and the autos in Dharwad charge them way beyond the meter prices people stand in the sun to wait for a ride? Neither do they have the strength nor the stamina to keep waiting in long queues.
Nanaji begins his day at seven in the morning and stays on his toes till seven in the evening. Most of his passengers have his number on their speed dials.
Whether they are young children, teens or elderly folks, I offer anyone and everyone a ride, he adds.
Nanaji believes that if an individual can afford two meals a day, a comfortable house to live and basic savings, then he has all the reasons to help the needy. Speaking of his support system, his family, he shares:
I have always believed in quality education. We are fortunate that under the government sponsored ‘Right to Education’ act, my two sons are availing free education at the best school of Dharwad. My daughter, who is quite smart, has been enrolled in an Urdu school called Anjuman, and she learns English from her brothers. In our community, women are the strongest pillars; so, we chose to teach her Urdu and the beliefs we follow, from the very beginning.
Joining every celebration
From the day Ganapathi bappa arrives to the next 21 days every household in Dharwad bids farewell to the elephant-headed god, Nanaji offers his service wholeheartedly. Besides, this is not the only time he renders such services — every Independence Day and Republic Day, Nanaji welcomes school students who are often found rushing to their schools.
There is an innate sense happiness felt in serving people when they are in need, he adds. Though most residents in Dharwad appreciate Nanaji’s efforts, his immediate community of the auto drivers often fails to welcome him.
Other auto drivers in the area come to beat me up when they see me park their vehicle in the auto stand. I miss out on customers at the stand but eventually I meet others on my way.
With an intent to serve the needy beyond religions, Nanaji is a standing testimonial to how as a community we can unite through small gestures and a bigger intent.
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