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Unsung 2

Posted on: 29 November '10

Inspire to Impact

I love bridge (the card game) because competitive bridge is not about the big cards. Bridge recognizes that we (the players) do not have a hand in the cards we are dealt. But how we play the cards is what differentiates us. Someone with very low cards can shine in a match point bridge game and win over someone who is dealt ace, king and queen.

While this is a lesson for life, we tend to forget that. “Unsung” (authored by Mahesh Bhat and Anita Pratap) comes as a timely reminder, with a Navaratna of heroes who did not come with the aces dealt to them when they arrived. In this blog, I will talk about Tulasi Munda, youngest of seven children in an Orissa village. As a child she yearned to educate herself in a village with no school and in an environment where girls are not expected to study.

As we have experienced many times, when you are consumed by a powerful idea, nature conspires to make it happen. The big break came in her early teens when she got exposed to noted social workers committed to educating women. This break took her to Vinoba Bhave who provided the inspiration that defined the course of her life.

In 1964, when seventeen, she returned to her village (Serenda in Keonjhar district) with a clear mission – to fight illiteracy. Needless to say, the path was not easy in an era when girls were not educated, and farmers needed their children to contribute in the fields. Her first school was a verandah in the village chief’s office, and an instant success. Two years later, she had upgraded to a tin shed in a plot of land outside the village. Staying alone at night in the shed outside the village was not a concern for her, as she says she was doing God’s work. Forty years later, she has 17 schools, having educating 20,000 children. All from a woman in a village where educating girls was an unknown concept!

Tulasi Munda has her own views on education – she believes education is about changing lives and spreading happiness. Instead, today it is about chasing jobs, and enslaved minds. How profound!

Tulasi’s work is unfinished. She laments inequality and injustice resulting from big companies depriving the poor of their land rich in iron ore. Born in 1947, this midnight’s child is now focused on a new freedom struggle – liberate society from poverty, disparity and injustice.

What leadership lessons do we learn from Tulasi’s life?

1. Limitations of the environment around you cannot stop you from dreaming big.
2. Perseverance in following her dream introduced Tulasi to noted social workers Malti Chaudhury, Roma Devi and Nirmala Deshpande. Tulasi took the leap of faith and participated in their struggles in different parts of the country – this eventually took her to Vinoba Bhave. Choosing one door opens another; she could not have found Vinoba Bhave if she did not leave her village. Venturing into unknown territory is a necessary first step to finding a discontinuous future.
3. If you want to make an impact, inspire others. One inspired Tulasi educated 20,000 others. If even two hundred of them are similarly inspired and each of them makes a difference to two thousand others, she has set in motion a perpetual impact machine.
4. She treated her work as God’s work. In doing God’s work, there is no fear, no shame. We do what we are passionate about, and God takes care of the consequences. Leaving the consequences to God removes the constraints of the mind, and guides us to a higher level of achievement.
5. She was grounded in the basics of systems thinking. Education that leads to mere search for jobs will not solve problem of joblessness, she says. Tulasi is pained by the deprivation of the poor of their lands, and foresees a troubled future for our society if the current practice of uprooting people from their lands continues. She knows how to map future consequences from our current actions.
6. In her scale of values, justice is not subservient to achievement.
7. Achievement and recognition have not deterred Tulasi from framing her next mission, the struggle for justice and equity in society. Passionate people never retire!

I must confess this story continues to move me deeply, and I cannot pretend I have understood the depth of this inspiring story. I believed earlier that the right environment can trigger the right passions. In this story, the environment was hardly an encouragement. I also believe there are defining moments and events that shape the course of our lives; that was true in Subhashini’s case in my previous blog. Tulasi needed no such moment. A little girl in a remote village with no access to schooling dreams of eradicating illiteracy – was she different, or is it that anyone can dream, only we lack the courage? And if we agree anyone can be inspired, we need to remember this every time we write off someone – there must be something that will ignite this person, only we have not found it out. The most inspiring thing about inspiring others is that it comes “free”.

There was enthusiastic response to my first blog on Unsung. This motivates me to write more about the unsung heroes among us.

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  • Geetha Chandar

    Dear Mr. Banerjee,
    Thank you for telling us about Ms. Tulasi Munda. This Padma Shri awardee who is an amazing force multiplier has definitely not rested on her laurels. In fact, to her, poverty is a ‘positive possibility’ and she epitomizes Robert Schuller’s ‘Possibility Thinkers Creed’:
    “When faced with a mountain,
    I will not quit!
    I will keep on striving until I climb over,
    Find a pass through, tunnel underneath,
    Or simply stay and turn the mountain into a gold mine —
    With God’s help!”

    Her views on present day education, the fact that she strongly believes that ‘justice is not subservient to achievement’…. What an amazing woman! We definitely need more Tulasis in our country.
    And the profundity in this statement made by you is awe-inspiring really: “And if we agree anyone can be inspired, we need to remember this every time we write off someone – there must be something that will ignite this person, only we have not found it out.”

    And here, we are ready to brand a primary school child who does not secure the top rank in her class as ‘NOT INTELLIGENT’ without bothering to find out what enthuses her!
    Look forward to reading about more unsung heroes in your blog in the days ahead.
    Thanks and regards,


  • Please continue to inspire us through your stories of Unsung heros.

  • monimoy mukherjee

    Read the story about Tulsi Munda.Very inspiring.It confirms once again,:If there is a will there is a way: