Embracing life as it is
After the birth of Jagannath Sheel, his parents Gopinath Sheel and Anna Rani shocked as the boy had no hands.
The ultra-poor couple therefore feared that begging would be the only way for living of their disabled son. But Jagannath proved their premonition wrong by making himself self-sufficient in his life instead of depending on others. Self-confident Jagannath Sheel is still singing the triumph of life at the age of 69.
Jagannath was born at Koyra village in Tangail's Bhuanpur upazila in 1952. His father was a barber by profession. On those days, the barbers used to go door to door for works in exchange of little amount of rice or nominal wages.
Child Jagannath, however, wanted to be educated even in the midst of extreme poverty of the family.
After passing class V from the local primary school, he took admission to the nearby Nikrail Polshia Rani Dino Moni High School. As disabled and poor, the school authorities provided Jagannath a full free studentship.
He, however, was to earn the expense of books, copybooks etc by providing tuition to a few primary students of the village.
During his study in the school, responding to the call of a neighbour, Jagannath went to Dhaka in 1968 taking his text books in a bag.
He acted in a Bangla movie titled 'Molua' starring Mannan and Kobita as hero and heroine respectively. Jahannath's role was of an associate of the heroine.
He later returned to village to take part in the entrance exams in 1969 and passed in the second division writing with feet. However, he could not take admission to a remote college due to the then turbulentpolitical situation of the country.
Jagannath took part in the campaign of the national elections on 1970 in favour of local Awamii League candidate.
During Liberation War of 1971, he worked with local freedom fighters as a volunteer. He was also made a witness of the glorious 'Jahajmara Fight' on Jamuna river bank near his house where the brave FFs of Kaderia Bahini destroyed two war ships of Pakistanis laden with huge amount of arms and ammunitions.
After Independence, Jagannath took admission in ISC at Mawlana Mohammad Ali College in Kagmari to meet the dream to take higher education. However, his heart was broken when he failed to obtain the certificate despite taking part in the exams in 1973 as he failed to secure pass marks in English second paper. He could not continue his study further due to poverty.
"Later I moved from door to door for getting a job but none gave me a job due to my disability," Jagannath said.
In this situation, he decided to do something on his own for living. He bought some books from a bookstall in Tangail town and started selling these moving at local rural markets. In 1977, he set up a book stall at Nikrail Bazar, one kilometer away from his house. He was also teaching a few local primary students at the book stall.
Jagannath married Milon Rani, a girl from Jhaoail village in the adjacent Gopalpur upazila, in 1983.
Milon Rani said, "As my father was very poor and could not feed me, so he married me off to disabled Jagannath. Despite having no hands, my husband can do almost all the works like reading, eating, bathing, brushing teeth, wearing clothes and many household works by using his feet."
Jagannath had to close his book stall in 1991 due to losses. He rented out the shop to other but continued private tuitions going to the houses of local students. However, he has always struggled hard to feed his wife and three children with the little income.
Local Hridoy Mondol said Jagannath is poor but a man of dignity. "I know him since my childhood but never seen him begging for his poverty."
Jagannath's wife Milon, however, said "Although my husband helped to make other's children educated, none of my three children could make it to the college level due to poverty."
She also said when they were struggling a lot due to acute poverty, the local authorities have issued her husband a card for the disabled from which he has been getting Tk 750 per month as allowance.
Moreover, the local administration provided them some corrugated iron sheets and Tk 18,000 cash for building a house.
"Everything was going well before the outbreak of the coronavirus. However, the schools were shut due the pandemic and the income of my husband dropped," she added.
Jagannath, however, does not want to think so much about the situation.
"Even, I never complained to God for my disability," he said.
Asked what his last will is, a smiling Jagannath said, "It is actually two--one is hope and other is dream. The hope is to recover a piece of my ancestral land from the grabber and the dream is to see the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina up close before my death."