Aswin Bhai – A Local Deity

by | Sep 23, 2019

Do you have to arrange for a meeting with a new group of migrants?

Are you unaware of a certain part of Surat and you have some work there?

Do you have to arrange for an Independence Day celebration program with the community?

Do you have a medical emergency at 2 at night?

Are you a migrant and having issues to make an Aadhar card or PAN card?

Is it raining outside and you are missing your pakodas back at home?

Well if you are in Surat and working with Aajeevika Bureau, you need not worry. You have got Aswin bhai to take care of you. He is there to listen to your worries and say, “tension nahi lene ka babu, kaam ho jaega”. He is there to accompany you to your work and help you, he will be there if you need ANYTHING, he will be there to make pakodas with you to enjoy a rainy day. He might not be the best person to be punctual in a normal day but you can be sure that he will take care of you if it is an emergency. He will be there even before you can think.

Aswin Vadatiya, the eldest of the four children was born to Vijay and Snehal Vadatiya in 15 June, 1983. Vijay bhai, a migrant from the Ganjam district of Odisha came to Gujarat in the year 1972 at the age of 18 with a friend from a neighboring village. Back in village, he used to work as a helping hand in a local grocery shop. The trend of young lads traveling from the eastern district of Ganjam in Odisha to the western coast of Surat in Gujarat had already started. Lack of enough opportunities in Ganjam due to inadequate irrigation of lands, frequent natural calamities forced the youth to migrate to Surat to support their families. Vijay bhai  also came to the diamond capital of India when the textile industry had started to grow.

Unlike other friends from his village, he did not join the power-loom industry. He started to work as a gardener. He continued to work as a gardener until he got married. By this time the number of people from the district of Ganjam in Surat has been increasing exponentially. He found this as a perfect opportunity to export local Ganjam-i goods to Surat. With the connection that he had made in these years he opened up a paan shop. He started to export goods like lungi, achaar, bed sheets, mushroom along with other things which were not easily available in Surat. Eventually, he gradually transformed his little paan shop into a grocery shop where his wife and his younger brother also joined. In the next six years, his business developed and he opened up a local Odia bookshop as well where his younger brother took charge.

In these six years, the number of migrants from Ganjam was all time highest and they looked up to Vijay bhai for any help. With the support of his people from his native place, Vijay bhai arranged for water and electricity facilities for them from the Surat Municipal Corporation. Initially, the migrants from Ganjam were mostly single – male migrants. They did not want to migrate with their families as there were no proper arrangements for migrant families in Surat. Vijay bhai along with help from one of his friend, Ashok Patra and social worker Gouri Ganguly opened the first Odia medium school in Surat. Gradually families from Ganjam started to migrate to Surat. Eventually, a number of Odia schools were also established. Meanwhile, young Aswin had started to go to a Gujarati medium school, but his younger brothers and cousins started their education in this Odia medium school. Unlike other migrants from Ganjam, Vijay bhai was destined to be in Gujarat. He had no plans to return to the poverty of Ganjam. He went on to buy a plot of land with a couple of friends Ramesh Nayak and Vishwanath Behera around Pandeswara. A number of plots were being arranged from this plot of land and sold to the Odia migrants. The place is now known as Jagannath Nagar. Recently a Jagannath temple was built in this area. Vijay bhai was diagnosed with malaria in 1992 and he passed away at the age of 38.

The untimely death of Vijay bhai made life difficult for Snehal ben and his family of four sons. She somehow managed to run the grocery shop until her death in 2002. Aswin bhai was in Ahmadabad since 1997 where he completed his high school studies. After his mother passed away he returned to Surat and started to attend J. Z. Shah Arts & H.P. Desai Commerce College. He always looked up to his father and like his father he was certain from a very young age to work for his community. It became very easy for him to start working as a peer educator in HIV AIDS control society. This gave him an opportunity to manage his finance and also get a formal beginning to what he wanted to do. Life was not easy as he was unable to run the grocery shop which eventually he had to shut down.

Earning a small stipend of Rs.1500 from HIV AIDS control society was not enough for him and his brothers. He started to work outside Surat railway station where he would charge Rs.20-30 to make reservations. Aswin bhai also started to make official documents like PAN cards, voter ID cards for Odia people. He somehow managed to run the expenses until his graduation in 2006. Post graduation, he joined Lok Drishti Charitable Trust as an outreach worker. This was also an organisation which worked on HIV AIDS initiative. He worked for 5 years and then joined Lok Samarpan Blood Bank in 2010. He worked in Lok Samarpan blood bank till 2015. He got married to his childhood love Saraswati Nahak in 2015. Together they have a two year old daughter. Aswin bhai joined the Aajeevika team in 2015 and is the oldest team member in the Surat office. His contacts and fluency in three languages Odia, Gujarati and Hindi along with his love and passion for his work is what the others bank on.

The appreciation that he gets keeps him motivated. The passion he has towards his work helps him to develop relationship outside work as well. This also helps us to reach out to a lot of people. Often a lot of people call the office and look for Aswin bhai to talk to. They insist to talk to him because of the relationship he has with these people which helps them to open up and talk freely. We often joke that the office is the ‘Mandir’ and Aswin bhai is the ‘Bhagwan’ here.

Like father, he loves to help his community and is loved by all. Whenever any one of us visit the field we always find people remembering Vijay bhai and get to witness the respect these people have for him. Aswin bhai is always ready to help like his father. You can always bother him with your problems and he will help you to find a solution to it. All you need to do is to ask him as you know what the answer will be, “tension nahi lene ka babu, kaam ho jaega”.

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