He is just 24 years old, an engineer studying management and the president of an altruistic organisation that has collected Rs. 1 crore in small contributions and taken the power of the sun into many thousand homes in hundreds of villages in underprivileged India.The boyish Mr. Jyotirmoy Chatterji has many other “firsts” to his credit. For example, he is the first student to have barged into the office of the Principal and switched off the lights – in spite of the fact that the Principal is also the Sheriff.
He has spread the “virus” of service to scores of school and college students, aged between 12 and 20, and got them to engage in community service at places that the authorities concerned have kept in the dark (sans electricity) and ignored.
At the meeting of March 8, when Mr. Jyotirmoy Chatterji (or “JC” as he is called by friends) addressed the Rotary Club of Bombay, he had the rare honour and privilege of having his Principal, the Sheriff, (Dr.) Indu Shahani, proposing the vote of thanks for him!
It all started when he went on an exploratory trip to some villages located not far from Bombay (just two to three hours’ drive away) and was shocked out of his South Bombay somnolence to note that the villagers had to switch off their lives after sunset.
The lack of power lit a fuse in him. And he decided to follow the advice of Mahatma Gandhi who had said, “Be the change you want to see in this world”.
Education for All Chairman Alok Sekhsaria, who introduced him, pointed out that it was Mr. Chatterji and SIFE that had taken up the English module for the fledgling Bhavishya-Yaan project at the Dr. Ambedkar Municipal School at Worli about two years ago.
Alok, who described Mr. Chatterji’s experience as “the story of a great project that has been inspired by great leadership”, also lauded Indu for motivating, directing and creating an environment that engendered projects like “Chirag” that lit up the lives of thousands of hapless Indians.
Mr. Chatterji started by juxtaposing the India that was one of the fastest-growing economies of the world, a part of the elite nuclear club and one whose space programme had discovered water on the moon, against the other India that faced the most severe challenges in the field of poverty alleviation, health, sanitation and literacy.
“These are the two faces of India and this is where the youth,especially the educated youth, have a crucial role to play.”
In December, 2009, Prof. Pratibha Pai and he decided to take up a project for the rural masses. A few of the boys drove off at random to some villages in Thane, travelling for two to three hours. On making inquiries they learned that those villages had neither a power grid nor electric supply. Some of the villagers who owned mobile phones had to walk 20 to 25 km. to the nearest town to charge their phones.
“That really shocked me. I have always lived in the city and, studying in college, never realised how privileged I was... We take everything for granted. We never think twice before walking out of a room leaving many tube lights and fans (still switched) on. Once we went into those villages, we realised how privileged we had been.”
On returning to Bombay, Mr. Chatterji and his SIFE friends went to the Principal and told her that they proposed to light up those villages that had no power. She assured all possible help and support. Buoyed by this assurance, the team rolled up its sleeves and got down to the nitty-gritty.
They found a village, Ujjaini, which had 110 houses and lacked power. The team decided to provide solar power to this village since it was a clean and renewable form of energy and because it was (and still is) in vogue.
When the team learned that the Rotary Club of Bombay was working on a solar power project, it got in touch with the key person involved, Ramesh Narayan, who introduced it to the vendor who possessed the technology for making solar lanterns and tube lights.
Sensing the opportunity to empower yet another group of lessprivileged citizens, the team wondered whether the solar lanterns and tube lights could be assembled by physically challenged or differently-abled persons.
Yes, said the vendor, and that opened the doors to a group of paraplegics (those paralysed below the waist) who sat on wheelchairs awaiting opportunities to earn an honest living.
It took just one week to train this group of differently-abled persons in how to assemble high-quality equipment such as solar lamps and solar tube lights in a professional manner. In fact, they did an excellent job and were ready with quality equipment in double quick time.
Mr. Chatterji said the next hurdle was finance. All they could present by way of personnel were young students aged between 12 and 20 who were fired by a desire to light up some
villages. Corporate and other donors turned them down because they had no track record of service. Mere enthusiasm was not enough to attract finance. "No one believed in the work we were doing (and wanted to do)... theysaid this is the work of the government, this is not for kids like you."
Undeterred, the SIFE team returned to college and started bouncing off ideas. They admitted that the only asset that they possessed (if they could call it that) was the 6,000 students of the college. But how could this asset be capitalised to raise funds? Much deliberation later, a plan was decided upon and quietly set in motion.
The students noted that the college had five floors and several corridors. For one whole week, all the tube lights were taken out and all the corridors left in complete darkness. A message was left hanging that said, "Tube lights missing for a mission".
Similarly, all notice boards on all the floors were painted black and a message conveyed that the notice boards were "Missing for a mission".
Messages on the staircases said, "The person walking before you is missing for a mission". In the washrooms a message on the mirrors said, "The person standing here is missing for a mission".
Taking advantage of the fact that Indu Shahani was out of town at that time, the following message was placed on her door, "The Dean of H.R. College is missing for a mission".
What was the idea behind this "mission" business? It was to sensitise the 6,000 students of the college and to make them realise how irritated they were feeling just because there were no lights in the corridors. (It was another story that they would have loved it had there been no lights in their classrooms as