Published: 22nd April 2020
Paralysis hasn't stopped this 49-year-old Kolkata teacher from delivering his daily dose of current affairs to students. Here's how
Rajeev Poddar teaches economics and accountancy to higher secondary students in Kolkata and also runs his own website, YouTube channel to keep his students abreast with current affairs
For some of us, Rajeev's life story could sound like fiction or maybe even a movie at times. However, the reality is definitely stranger than fiction. On January 28, 1980, Rajeev Poddar came back from school and like every other child, completed his routine tasks and went to sleep at night. However, when the clock struck 12 at night, his stomach ached and he couldn't put his finger to what might have gone wrong during the day that led to this. His mother gave him some medicines and made him go back to sleep.
The next morning, his stomach ache had vanished but he caught a fever and as he tried to get up from his bed, he couldn't. His parents still thought that he must be weak and asked him to sleep it off. After a few hours when Rajeev got up, he could not feel his legs. His mother panicked and tried pinching him, but he felt nothing. Rajeev was rushed to the nearest hospital where the doctors determined that he had lost the power and his body below the shoulders was dead. He was diagnosed with paralysis but no doctor could tell him the exact reason why. That day changed his life forever.
Today, a 49-year-old Rajeev teaches economics and accountancy to higher secondary students in Kolkata. He also runs his own website and a YouTube channel Knowledge Capsules to keep his students abreast of current affairs and basic general knowledge. The teacher who doesn't need to be taught the meaning of isolation now, as he has been self-quarantining for at least the past 40 years, has also begun conducting live sessions on his channel and other social media platforms amid the COVID-19 lockdown so his students do not miss out on anything. Rajeev founded Knowledge Capsules in 2015 after almost 25 years of teaching, when he realised that most of the students, despite having a degree, lacked knowledge and awareness on current issues. Right now, he’s focused on making videos on the Coronavirus, and often goes live on Instagram to share the latest updates in the most candid and lucid manner. "I give out basic facts in simple language that students can easily grasp. But I try to put in an x-factor in my video, like using visually appealing content like memes, photos, shayaris (short poems in Hindi) and more to make it interesting," says Rajeev.
Currently, Rajeev has been conducting a lot of Instagram live sessions for people and he's also been invited by several digital organisations to do it for them. "As it is so fast-paced and people want instant information on the virus, we can't wait to make long videos to explain it to them. Desperate times call for desperate measures so these live sessions help. Like recently, the crude oil prices went negative and people instantly wanted reactions to that and what will happen. So I had to speak on it on a live session, which is better in a way as making a video, as it would take up at least some hours or even days," he explains. Rajeev's students help him make the videos and he has a team that edits the videos and posts them.
Rajeev revealed his life story only in 2016 at a TED talk conducted the Bhawanipur Education Society College in Kolkata. In the past, he did not share his life story with anyone and always said no to interviews. "It felt like blowing your own trumpet or a way to get sympathy. However, that changed when one of my students once said 'when we become the author of our own story we let other people learn from our life without having to live through it'," he adds.
To become a teacher you at least need a graduate degree in any field, but Rajeev has gone to school only till the second standard. He studied to auto-promote himself — while his friends studied at schools, he got the same books that they had in their curriculum and studied from them throughout the year. What changed his life was the launch of The Telegraph in 1982, a daily newspaper in Kolkata. He hadn't seen the outside world and so this newspaper became his best friend and his only source of knowledge. Since then, there was no looking back — he read novels, books, comics and a lot more. "I read so much that I could make lists of the books, the author's names and wrote them down in one of my diaries," he adds.
His teaching career began when kids from his neighbourhood started coming to him eventually to clear their doubts, which he made them understand in a simple method. Then more followed. "The more I taught the more I learned. At the age of 23-24 when people finish their academics, I started my academic journey. I could teach thousands of students from my room itself," he says. To motivate students to keep themselves aware of current affairs, Rajeev conducted quiz contests and even gave out prizes like pens and pizzas. He and his team at Knowledge Capsules also go to educational institutes to conduct light-hearted, story-telling presentations for students to be interested in general knowledge. "What I am today is because of my students. Family and education are the most important things in life are what I have learned in these years," he concludes.