As many as 300 million people in India are part of what’s called the Indian middle class. As per World Bank’s estimates, nearly 180 million people still live below the poverty line. To think that so many of the nation’s people are still compelled to live with inadequate resources is saddening.

Yet, it’s uplifting to think that we, the people of India, refuse to stay down. We toil and battle hard to rise above our circumstances and build a meaningful life, both for ourselves and others. Among these men and women are some warriors who’ve managed to push through the toughest of obstacles in their lives to become symbols of hope, pride, inspiration, strength, and love for the billions of people in India.

As we approach the end of this year, we share the stories of six such remarkable Indians who’ve battled the odds to leave an indelible mark on the world.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Image Source: Yahoo News

Nawazuddin Siddiqui was one of eight siblings born into a farmer’s family in a tiny village in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh. After receiving a degree in Chemistry, he started working as Chief Chemist at a petrochemical factory, where he remained employed for a year. But learning about the excellent theater scene in Delhi, he moved to Delhi to pursue acting.

He worked as a watchman for a year in the capital — a job most people would think is beneath them. But the yearning to start acting in plays pushed him to make the move. He got a few theater gigs at the time, and then decided to join the National School of Drama, New Delhi, to receive training as an actor.

Armed with a degree, he moved to Mumbai for opportunities in TV. He struggled, taking up tiny roles on stage, before finally securing a role in Aamir Khan-starrer Sarfarosh. It was sheer luck, as he got this role only because a friend, who had a role in the film, didn’t turn up.

Nawazuddin started to get more roles after that, but they were few and far between. The set of films in which he featured prominently never made it to screen. However, he was hired for a tiny role in Munna Bhai MBBS soon after, and that was a small yet significant breakthrough. But his financial position didn’t improve — he didn’t even have the money to pay the house rent.

After persisting for years with blink-and-miss roles, he started to get roles in films like Black Friday, Dev.D, and New York. Not long after, Kahaani and Gangs of Wasseypur followed, and then came big blockbusters in the form of Kick and Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Today, he is widely regarded as one of India’s finest actors.

“Never compromise on your originality.
You’ll be recognized if you’ll be yourself.
All the treasure is hidden within.”

Nawazuddin Siddiqui


Rajinikanth

Rajinikanth
Image Source: Kabali Movie

Born into a Marathi family in Bengaluru, then Mysore State, Rajinikanth — whose original name is Shivaji Rao Gaekwad — was the youngest of four siblings. After completing his schooling, he was compelled to take up odd jobs, as he didn’t come from a wealthy family. He worked as a carpenter, coolie, and then a bus conductor.

During his days as a bus conductor, he developed an interest in acting and decided to join theater. He began to participate in various stage plays at the time. Just then, he came across an advertisement issued by the Madras Film Institute. Interested in the opportunity, he decided to jump in and take up an acting course there, despite opposition from his family.

In his days of training, while performing in a play on stage, Rajinikanth was noticed by Tamil film director, K. Balachander, who advised him to learn to speak Tamil, and then offered him a small role in his film Apoorva Raagangal. This film went to win three National Film Awards and Rajinikanth received mentions for his small role in newspapers.

This was, however, not a breakthrough despite being his first film. He starred in a number of films in small roles after that, most of which were negative characters. Several years later, in a movie, he got noticed for his style of flipping the cigarette in a film, and that was the start of things to come. However, several years had passed and Rajinikanth’s career hadn’t taken off.

It was in the 80s, after having worked in over ten films, that he finally had a breakthrough. His infectious style caught on and a fan frenzy stirred up. In the 90s, he achieved unparalleled commercial success in the industry. There’s been no looking back for Rajinikanth ever since, who today, is treated like a god-like figure in South India.

“You won’t get anything without hard work.
What you get without hard work will never fructify.”

Rajinikanth


Smriti Irani

Smriti Irani
Image Source: The Namo Patrika

HRD Minister with the Government of India and a Vice President of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Smriti Zubin Irani has had a topsy-turvy life. She realized early that she had to support her family. She studied till Class XII before discontinuing her education. At age 18, she signed up for the Miss India contest without telling anyone in the family.

Much to her surprise, she was shortlisted. She couldn’t believe it, but was now motivated to move to Mumbai for the final round. She borrowed a huge sum of money from her father — on the condition that she’d pay him back — and decided to participate in the contest. Although she didn’t win the contest, she ended up being one of the five finalists.

Now, the loan had to be paid. So she decided to take up odd jobs. After not having made it through an interview for the role of an air-hostess at Jet Airways, she decided to work at McDonald’s, serving burgers and cleaning tables. She did, while sending her portfolio to as many TV producers as she could. The months-long search finally paid off, as she got an offer to do an ad.

After doing the ad, she was chosen to be an anchor for a TV show. Some more TV show appearances followed, before she was hired to play Tulsi — the role that made her an icon — for the popular show Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. As the show started to reach its peak, she decided to join the BJP and rose through the party’s ranks quite swiftly.

Working hard in the tough world of politics, she made great strides in her journey. Today, she’s the HRD Minister and a close confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She’s often seen participating in noisy debates on news channels and fighting for what she thinks is right. Seems like she’s left her days of struggle far behind.

“It’s the struggle of childhood and youth that makes a woman goal-oriented.
She has to fight for everything and it’s still true that the majority of girls are
discriminated against their brothers.”

Smriti Irani


Dr. Karsanbhai Patel


Image Source: Empty Engine

Dr. Karsanbhai Khodidas Patel was born in a family of farmers in Ruppur village, Gujarat. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and started working as a lab technician, after which he opted for a job with the state government. It was during this time, at age 24, that he found a way to spend his after-office hours — manufacturing phosphate-free detergent powder in his backyard.

Patel sold his eco-friendly detergent powder, Nirma, door-to-door while riding to work, 17 km away, on his bicycle. He priced it at less than one-fourth the price of the cheapest popular detergent powder at the time and started capturing the market one little shine at a time. Eventually, Nirma became a well-recognized brand, and with the help of smart advertising, captured the domestic detergent market.

Ever since, Nirma has become a household name (“Sab ki pasand Nirma”). It has diversified over the years to produce packaged food, toilet soaps, industrial products and fertilizers. In the process, it has created a massive employment opportunity for tens of thousands of people in India, besides educating thousands of ambitious students every year from their college, Nirma University of Science and Technology.

From selling Nirma detergent powder at Rs 3 per kg, Dr. Karsanbhai Patel grew his company to be worth around Rs 2,500 crore. Ten years ago, he featured on the Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people. It’s been a while since he’s retired — his sons are now taking his legacy forward — but his journey is nothing short of remarkable.

“Advertising can only inform about the product.
Thereafter, it’s the success of the product alone.”

Karsanbhai Khodidas Patel


Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Dhoni
Image Source: Tech Story

The man who took India to No. 1 in every format of international cricket, Mahendra Singh Dhoni had humble beginnings. He was one of three siblings born to a family in Ranchi, Jharkhand. Growing up in a one-bedroom apartment adjacent to a sports ground, his tryst with sports began early.

Dhoni started playing badminton and football as a school kid and excelled in these sports. Despite not having played cricket earlier, his impressive goalkeeping skills helped him get a chance to keep wickets in a cricket game. Much to everyone’s surprise, he impressed with his skills as a wicketkeeper-batsman; so much so that he went from being a temporary wicketkeeper to a regular wicketkeeper-batsman in the team.

It was time, however, for him to work and earn an income. His search for employment took him to Kharagpur, West Bengal. The then-divisional railway manager of South Eastern Railways, who was in search of a wicketkeeper-batsman at the time, liked what he saw and gave Dhoni the job under the sports quota. Dhoni continued to impress, as he earned Rs. 200 extra for being an excellent performer.

On his remarkable journey, he has suffered many setbacks, like missing his flight once due to a car breakdown and missing the all-important Duleep Trophy as a result. But he persisted and kept working hard, rising through the ranks of domestic cricket. He was finally accepted in the Indian Cricket Team. It was a test match against Sri Lanka in Chennai where he made his debut as captain— a city that’s become his second hometown as the captain of the Chennai Super Kings.

Dhoni delivered several sterling performances early in his career, but didn’t get his due immediately. Perhaps it was his unorthodox style that made people skeptical of his skills, but eventually, he was recognized. Soon after, he was even made the captain of a team that comprised legends like Sachin, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Zaheer.

After taking India to myriad victories all over the world, and having conquered all international cricketing summits, he finds himself today approaching the end of his career. His story, however, will never cease to inspire the lakhs of kids who aspire to play for India despite their tough circumstances.

“I believe in giving more than 100% on the field,
and I don’t really worry about the result if there’s
great commitment on the field. That’s victory for me.”

Mahendra Singh Dhoni


Narendra Modi

Modi
Image Source: The Forthright

Born in a small, poorly lit house in Vadnagar, Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a tough childhood. His parents, belonging to the marginalized section in the state, found it hard to make ends meet. Such was the grimness of the situation that Modi helped his father sell tea at the Vadnagar railway station. He was just six years old.

Modi was diligent as a child. Despite helping his father at the tea stall, he balanced his academic and regular life very well. He read voraciously, largely reading books on spirituality — especially those of Swami Vivekanda — and found himself inclined towards asceticism. It was then that he also felt the desire to make a difference in society and serve people.

After realizing this, Modi didn’t wait for things to happen. He helped society every time he could, whether it was during a flood or a war. To take his service to the next level, he decided to join the Indian Army. But he couldn’t afford the fee for the college that would help him make it into the army. So he decided to formally join the RSS — an organization that he was informally associated with for quite some time.

At RSS, he started small, by serving tea and breakfast to senior colleagues and cleaning the building where the members stayed. He toiled this way, but not for long, as his abilities shone through brightly. He began climbing the ranks and eventually became one of the earliest members to join the BJP in a full-time position.

Modi then made his way up the party’s ranks and soon became a prominent figure in Gujarat politics, surprising everyone with his excellent analytical and organizational abilities. His greatness could not be contained anymore, as he eventually grew to become the Gujarat CM. After changing the state of Gujarat for the better over a 10-year period, he became elected as the Prime Minister of India. And the rest, as they say, is history.

“I did not get an opportunity to die for the country,
but I have got an opportunity to live for the country.”

Narendra Modi