An Extraordinary Tea Seller

Dawn arrived as the night faded away. Is there anything more satisfying than witnessing the arrival of dawn? As the sun starts rising up, it slowly starts painting the dark black night into a bright blue sky. You go out for your usual morning stroll, nature is at its best and so is the glorious hour. Fortunate, aren’t you to witness all of this?

As the sun rises higher in the sky, the day’s action begins and as you advance with your morning stroll, you get drifted towards the earthy smell of tea simmering in the pots, wafting through the air from the corners of the street. You feel an urge to take a sip to stimulate your inactive state. Would it make any sense if the day didn’t begin with a cup of tea? We thank the tea vendors. Don’t we? Had the tea vendors not existed, strolling out in the dawn wouldn’t have any charm to it!

Often taken for granted, the entire day of tea vendors or chai walas as fondly called in India, is spent in brewing and stirring tea in a copper utensil, to cater to a whole spectrum of customers, right from the early risers to the ones returning from night shifts. But this isn’t the case for Odisha’s 59-year-old Devarapalli Prakash Rao, a tea seller at Cuttack’s Bakshibazar. Being an ordinary tea seller his routine is still in contrast to the rest.

The journey of this tea seller has been unique for the last 18 years. He wakes up at 4 am and runs the shop until 10 am. Yes, you read it right, 10 am! When all the tea sellers go through blood, sweat and tears until late in the evening to add to their income, this tea seller shuts his shop in the morning to spend his income. Strange, isn’t it? Rao not only goes through blood, sweat and tears but puts almost all his income in enlightening lives. He hurries to shut his shop at sharp 10 am to open the doors of opportunities for the underprivileged.

Tea Seller Devarapalli Prakash Rao  Rao with the Children
Devarapalli Prakash Rao Rao with the Children

He runs a school, ‘Asha O Ashwasana‘, which he set up in the year 2000 to make a difference in the lives of deprived young children. His sparing income couldn’t deter him to work for the betterment of the deprived. He is dedicated to educating children who otherwise are likely to give in to the easy allurements such as crimes and substance abuse.

He has been educating the children of rickshaw-pullers, daily wage earners and municipal drain workers in the city for the past 18 years. His school facilitates till class III and beyond that helps them get admitted into a government school. Rao has taken the responsibility of these children and provides them with books and uniforms, along with milk and biscuits as a meal. The drive to take such a step despite his own condition came from the helplessness of his own life as a child. Rao as a child was very keen to study but due to his father’s failing health, he was compelled to leave his education midway and lend a helping hand in his father’s tea business.

Although he couldn’t be successful in fulfilling his dreams, he is living them by educating these kids. He also runs a help centre near SCB Government Hospital in order to aid patients by donating blood. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to Cuttack, met him and was totally in awe of his initiatives, praising him for undertaking such noble initiatives.

Odisha Tea Seller Devarapalli Prakash Rao with Narendra Modi
Rao with the Children & PM Narendra Modi

Even in his wildest dreams, Rao would never have imagined that he would be honoured with the fourth highest civilian award, the Padma Shri, for his remarkable contribution to society. But it’s nothing less than what he deserves.

So next time you stop by a tea seller, remind yourself that they might turn out to be a little ‘extra’ than the ‘ordinary’.

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