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A common man’s uncommon story

This is the story of a common man's uncommon determination. You win some. You lose some.

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“In England, there used to be a man called Shakespeare. He had said that money is a best friend but is not a good life partner. But I want to say the opposite of this today. Money is a good life partner, but it can never be your best friend. Shakespeare’s words held good for his time, and my words hold true for today’s time and age. Neither Shakespeare was wrong nor I.” This is Kishori Lal, a poor resident of Delhi speaking to us when we visited his house. We will reveal the reason for our visit later in the story. We don’t want to give it away now. Not yet.

Kishori Lal speaks to The Probe

Behind his humdrum existence is a story of immense struggle, sacrifice, resilience and hope. Kishori Lal is in his mid-50s and hails from a Dalit community. He calls himself a ‘poor, common man of India’ who leads a monotonous life these days. He lost track of his age 30 years ago when he faced challenging situations - abject poverty, debilitating debt and an indigent family with many mouths to feed. He made ends meet by doing base jobs. In his own words, “there’s not many menial jobs I haven’t done. I have worked as a labourer. I have done duty as a security guard. I have worked in a factory. I have drudged my way through life by doing anything I could to feed my children and wife.”


But years ago, Kishori Lal also played against India's cricketing icon Kapil Dev. He addresses Kapil Dev by his first name. "Kapil is an excellent player, and Yashpal Sharma was a humorous man, but Kapil is a natural cricketer. He never spoke without purpose and never showed pride in winning the World Cup. Natural player Kapil."


As an aspiring cricketer, Kishori Lal dabbled with the sport waiting hours together beyond the boundary lines of cricket grounds, offering water to players, holding kit bags of senior players, and fetching balls. He thought it was his calling when one day, he walked past the boundary line, reached the cricket pitch and held the bat in his hand for the first time. Kishori Lal proudly proclaims that he has never lost a match since. "May I tell you something. Sorry for interrupting you, but I have never lost a match in my captaincy. If I have played 1000 matches, I have won all of them. As it is said in English, 'unbeaten captain'. They used to call me 'unbeaten captain'.

After learning the sport, he gathered a team, formed a club, toured many states, and started playing matches. He mentored many young cricket aspirants. He had to bid farewell to the sport in the face of a financial crisis. "My father’s death affected me a lot. He used to support me and then after marriage I was overwhelmed by financial problems. I didn't have money. I had an empty pocket. There were days when I didn't have a single penny in my pocket. I swallowed my pride and left the ground, and became a labourer. A poor man cannot afford a good bat, and the rich man won't show his expensive bat to the poor. What if he breaks it while playing? The rich can buy good-quality safety guards, but the poor cannot. These sporting equipment are costly. Everything is costly. In the end, it comes down to money in life. Your self-worth is determined by how much money you have in your pocket. I was an utter failure when it came to money."


What followed was years of struggle. Despite his financial situation, Kishori Lal huddled money bit by bit to get three of his children educated. “We have three children: two daughters and a boy. My husband tried his best to provide education to our children, and he tried to live out his dreams through his children. We put our son Lakshya in a private school till fifth standard. After that, we just couldn’t afford it anymore and had to put them back in government schools,” says Anita, Kishori Lal’s wife.


Kishori Lal’s wife Anita on the family’s struggles

Anita’s struggles are no different from her husband’s. “When the factory where we worked got sealed, we were knee-deep in debt and poverty. There was a time when we had no food to eat for days together. I started working as a maid in a school and have worked in a courier company. I used to make mobile phone chargers. Then I worked in a school as a peon. They hired me as I could handle parents and say a few words in English like ‘how are you ‘… ‘water please’...”

When Kishori Lal and Anita lost their jobs, the couple’s sole purpose was to do odd jobs or anything it took and make enough money to pay off the rent. “It didn’t matter if we had money for food. But we had to raise money to pay off our monthly rent. We could stay with empty stomachs but not without a roof over our head because three of our children were looking up to us,” ruminates Anita.

Somewhere along the line, between all the trials and adversity, the couple's son Lakshya Anand started grooming himself to take on the hardship of life through what he is passionate about, books and education. Kishori Lal recounts Lakshya as a kid so fascinated by books that he would lock himself up in a tiny space and never return for hours. Sometimes he would immerse himself in books and lose all notions of time, and wouldn't be able to tell night from day.


"My son is a bookworm. He wanted to prepare for UPSC, and I didn't even know what UPSC meant. I told him to go for it if he really wanted to. We needed money for his education, and I asked my relatives to lend me some money. They demotivated me and told me why I risk investing so much in my son. What will he do by studying so much." And then Kishori Lal's eyes sparkled with excitement when he spoke about Lakshya's results. "He called his mother on the result day. He said he got All India Rank 101 for the UPSC Civil Services exam. He said that he would become an IFS officer now. I had tears in my eyes. I can't express in words what this news meant for my family and me."


Kishori Lal’s son Lakshya Anand on securing All India Rank 101 for the Civil Services exams

“Cracking UPSC is a life-changing experience; it changes your life when you get such a result. Those who never believed in me or denied providing any help apologised to me to some extent and were the first ones to congratulate me when my results were announced. There is a considerable difference in the way people perceive us now. The only reason for this change of perception is the power of the position I hold, not me or my family. So, I feel this change is not for me but for my position,” says Lakshya.


So, this was why we went to Kishori Lal's house. To meet Lakshya Anand and talk to him about how he beat the odds and scored a rank. While we were in his house, Lakshya was busy in an online meeting for hours, which gave us ample time to break ice with his father, Kishori Lal. This family's trials and tribulations made us realise there are not one or two but many protagonists in this story. And some morals too. Kishori Lal never realised his lakshya (goal). But his son Lakhsya did. This is the story of a common man's uncommon determination. You win some. You lose some.