Published: 10th March 2021
After the Padma Shri chaiwala of Cuttack passed away, his 27-year-old daughter is taking forward his mission to educate
It hasn't even been two months since the demise of D Prakash Rao and his daughter Bhanupriya Rao is already is carrying forward the legacy of his dreams, swiftly and ably. This is her story now...
Once upon a time, D Prakash Rao and his daughter Bhanupriya Rao were casually conversing in their home in Buxipur, Cuttack. "What will happen after you?" asked Bhanupriya just like that, out of nowhere. The youngster was referring to the rich legacy Prakash Rao had built selling cup after cup of tea. This is the chaiwala whose zeal for education was so strong that when he couldn't realise his own academic aspirations, he firmly decided that he will do everything in his power to ensure that others could live their dream. From running classes in his tarpaulin-roofed house to building Asha o Ashwasana, a school in his backyard which has been benefitting children from the slums — it's true, the educationalist's legacy needed some able shoulders so that it could be carried forward in a befitting manner.
COVID protocols being followed | (Pic: Irfana)
Prakash Rao simply said, "You are there, no? You will manage." Bhanupriya laughed heartily back then because she was dreaming her own dreams. Armed with a Hotel Management degree from IHM Bhubaneswar, the world was her oyster. After her on-job training at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, she worked in Malaysia for six months and then in Delhi and at that point in time, but she was already looking much further ahead into the future she was building for herself. The now 27-year-old was learning Spanish while nursing dreams of working at an Embassy. Because, why not? And then everything changed. Not after her old man won the Padma Shri in 2019, but it was when he had his first brain stroke. She dropped everything and flew back home. "Though he was turning into quite the absent-minded professor, he was so positive through it all. Once he started recovering and gaining strength after rigorous physiotherapy sessions, he went back to the school to teach," says Bhanupriya. But soon, COVID had him in its clutches and he couldn't survive the subsequent brain stroke that followed. On January 14, 2021, he breathed his last. And the new Bhanupriya breathed her first.
The crowdfunding platform Milaap has helped Prakash Rao run the school, repair the house when it was destroyed during Cyclone Fani and even now, the fundraising is on
The call of the school
Today, when Bhanupriya enters the school, every child recognises her and gives her the respect she deserves. She shares a different kind of connection with the children though. She shares, "I love dancing! So whenever I get the chance, the kids and I freestyle. I even cook the midday meal sometimes or indulge in fun activities with them. I am not as patient as my father was, but I am learning. Time will teach me everything." Indeed, times are a changin' and they have changed this lady as well. Many children take their parents' legacy forward, whether it's in the form of a business or philanthropic acts. But how many do it at the cost of their own? Does Bhanupriya miss her former self, the one who dreamed of being a globetrotter? "I don't miss anything. I only see my father's face everywhere I go. No matter what we humans might plan, the Almighty above has his own plans for us. It did not take me long to realise that what's more important than my dreams, or even the dreams of my beloved father, are the dreams of the students. And I needed to see that through," she says with a steely resolve. And just like she had casually asked her father, "What will happen after you?", in the same matter-of-fact way, Bhanupriya is shouldering the legacy of her father.
Children in the school's auto | (Pic: Irfana)
Their plights continue...
Currently, about 120 students, from nursery to Class IV, actively attend the school and sit in a socially-distanced manner. And it's getting tough to get through the day. "It seems like children have forgotten everything. So the four teachers and I try to be as patient with them as possible," informs Bhanupriya. And indeed, teachers are going out of their way to ensure that kids feel right at home. They even feed children and comb their hair. She is in talks with the government authorities to register the school formally so that they can start Class V as well.
Recently, Bhanupriya went around the slums with the teachers to admit a few students to the school
Yet, the passing away of Prakash Rao has left a void not only in the heart of Bhanupriya, but in the hearts of the children and teachers too. "I still remember when we were taking his body home from SCB Medical College Hospital in an ambulance, it broke down while all the passed out students, parents and his admirers had gathered. It's as if their wish of carrying his body on their shoulder had come true," shares the youngster who had to perform the last rites of her father (in the Hindu religion, women are not allowed crematory ground, leave alone perform the last rites). "I did what had to be done," she says in a voice that depicts nothing but acceptance of what has passed.
Bhanupriya | (Pic: Irfana)
Just a day before Corona affected Prakash Rao, the father-daughter duo was having another of their conversations, recalls Bhanupriya for us. This time, she was first cajoling and then chiding him for not eating. "Your time of doing what you want with your health is over, you have to listen to me!" It's eerie but the many conversations the previously wayward youngster had with her father come back to her and so do his words. Sometimes his voice tells her to not stop at anything, no matter what the situation is. At other times, he tells her to be positive. In this way, she continues to carry forward his lines, legacy and the love he had for children.
They were able to build another floor on top of the school, making it more spacious
The life and times of Prakash Rao
- Born on November 11, 1958, he has been working at his father's tea stall since he was six
- He wanted to become a doctor but couldn't afford the exam fee and had to drop out
- While working at the stall, he used half the amount of every cup of tea towards the education of a child
- When he started teaching at his own house, his mother objected but he continued
- He donated blood over 200 times in his lifetime
- His schedule was thus: Working at the tea stall from 4 am to 10 am, then working at the school and back to the stall in the evening
D Prakash Rao receiving the Padma Shri | (Pic: Express)
Bhanupriya takes us through some characteristics of her father that made him the man we all came to know
- Prakash Rao was a man at work, always. He refused to sit idle
- He used to give children a glass of milk and tutti-frutti biscuit when he first started classes
- Forever encouraging of pursuing one's dream, he never stopped Bhanupriya from following her heart
- He simply adored playing football with students
- His patience knew no bounds, but he was short-tempered too, though it was rarely on display
- The chai stall he used to run is now under the care of their chachaji (uncle)
For more on them, check out milaap.org/fundraisers/support-prakashrao