Adventures of ‘The Extraordinary Swapanchaiwalhe’

A few months ago, as I prepared to embark on my endeavor as an AIF fellow, I spent some time researching the social impact being created by The American India Foundation (AIF) and its partners.  I studied different metrics, methods of evaluation, testimonials and reports, which discussed the impact AIF was making within the development space, but I neglected to reflect on the actual drivers behind this impact.

Swapan proudly wears our company badge.
Swapan proudly wearing our company badge.

After working at iMerit for the past few months, I believe I have a better understanding of why NGOs are able to make an impact in peoples’ lives: it’s largely due to the passionate people they employ!  I am surrounded by enthusiastic trainers who want their students to thrive, employees who are willing to travel upwards of 4 hrs a day to get to work, management staff who have left their high paying corporate jobs because they believe in the mission of iMerit, and a HR team who is eager to help young professionals grow.  People in all these facets of the organization have a direct impact on the people we try to serve, rural women and youth.  These people deserve all the praise that comes to them, but so do the support staff who are overlooked.

One member of our ‘support’ staff who exemplifies the need for passionate people in the social sector is Swapan Mandal.  The first day I came into the office he greeted me with a cup of warm ginger tea and an equally warm smile.  Later on in the day he was introduced to me as our office chaiwala (in Hindi, chai means tea, and wala loosely translated to “worker” in this case), but within a few days I could easily sense he is so much more.  Technically speaking everyone in our office refers to him as Swapanchaiwalhe, but I’ve slowly come to realize that he is, in essence, the heart of our organization.  Swapan is not only our chaiwala, he’s our: computerwala, phonewala, faxwala, repairwala, accountswala, deliverywala, khannawala, securitywala, psychiatristwala, cleaningwala, and anythingyouneedwala.

The Extraordinary Swapanchaiwalhe in action.
The Extraordinary Swapanchaiwalhe in action.

I’m fortunate enough to have gotten to know him better and can call him a friend.  We’ve had many talks where we have discussed our childhoods, homes, passions, and desire to help India flourish.  To me, he embodies selflessness, doing everything with a smile.  He’s literally available 24×7 for anyone and always puts others needs ahead of his own.  He will work weekends, stay at the office till 11pm, travel to any of our centers to drop off/pick-up documents, arrange for tickets, or simply just to listen to the problems in our office. He even gives me and other co-workers a ride home on the back of his bicycle when we leave the office late.  Through the bond we have formed in the past few months we’ve been able to learn about one another’s culture.  I’ve taught him an American style handshake, ultimately making us look foolish every time, and in return he’s been teaching me how to sing in Bangla, which looks equally foolish.

Since we work at an IT organization, he has even picked up some computer skills.  Swapan loves to come by and show off his MS Word knowledge and show me where his hometown of Hasnabad is located on GoogleMaps.  The thing that frustrated me about our relationship the most is also the thing which I appreciate the most: we communicate solely through hand movements and body language.  This is due to the fact that our native languages differ: Swapan speaks Bangla, whereas I speak Hindi and English.

Swapan's hometown of Hasnabad which is on the India/Bangladesh border.
Swapan’s hometown of Hasnabad which is on the India/Bangladesh border.
Showing of his MS Word skills by writing his and his wife's name.
Showing of his MS Word skills by writing his and his wife’s name.

It’s amazing people like Swapan whose efforts are directly helping impact the social sector.  My interactions with him are a constant reminder of the AIF mantra: serve others.  And one thing’s for sure, he’s no ordinary chaiwala!

Having been born in India, Neeraj grew up always being conscious of social issues as his middle-class family faced many struggles when they moved to India after the partition. His zeal for social entrepreneurship, gender equality, and sustainable development can be rooted back to the stories he heard about his grandmother during his childhood. She was a freedom-fighter who went to jail fighting for the rights of Indians.

Though he's been working in the corporate world for the past few years, his passion to help impact social change has never fainted.

Neeraj looks to translate his corporate world experience to help iMerit in its target of empowering women by helping them secure a job/livelihood.

He is honored to go back to India and get involved first hand at a grass-roots level with AIF. By the end of the fellowship, he hopes to have made an impact on the issues that Indian citizens are facing and is optimistic that this experience will help grow as a person.

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5 thoughts on “Adventures of ‘The Extraordinary Swapanchaiwalhe’

  1. Hey, we can submit his story to be featured in a new reality TV show “Hunnerbaz”, which is going to be featuring average everyday workers in an attempt to add dignity to the work they do.

  2. This is such a beautiful story. Makes me want to meet Swapan and a good reminder to appreciate those who we take for granted in our daily work lives..

  3. Neeraj, you have captured the essence of Anudip iMerit in this beautiful and thoughtful narrative. in as much as we live and breathe the org, people and work every day, your words are truly reflective of what is important. It is people like Swapan that inspire all of us.
    Thanks radha

  4. Neeraj
    Thanks for honoring Swapaneverythingwala. He and others like him have probably been directly or indirectly a part of every major milestone and achievement of every organization . Big data analytics will confirm that. We just need to acknowledge that a lot more in a world where literally “the last mile” people get a disproportionate amount of the rewards.
    Rajesh the office boy at KPMG in Mumbai remains one of my best friends there and I cherish the relationship .

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