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Anna Hazare is soldiering for rural regeneration

An army truck driver finds his mission in the battle-field: serve others

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At about 80 km towards Ahmednagar from Pune, turn left at Wadegaon. Ask anyone the way to Ralegan Siddhi. They will point you to a Shangri La. Be ready to strain your credulity as facts are reeled off, and evidence is presented. No one starves here --in fact everyone is well nourished--, there's no disease, the environment is clean and wooded, all the young are at school, the farm economy is booming, there are no social divisions, women are empowered and no one wastes time or money on movies, tobacco or liquor.

All this was wrung out of a drought prone 4 sq km land where till 1975, only 80 of its 2200 arable acres were farmed. The annual rain -- about 400 mm in a good year but mostly a third of that -- ran off the undulating land. The 2000 strong population sat and stared at a hopeless future. Children died early, men beat their wives, disease ran rampant and about the only businesses that made any money were the liquor stills - 40 of them. From there to paradise might seem an impossible hop. Yet, all it took was a mere 20 years -- and, an ex-army truck driver called Kissan Baburao 'Anna' Hazare.

Flower boy goes to the army:

Hazares owned 5 acres which if productive, should easily support a family in India. But given the conditions, they were in deep poverty. Young Hazare left for Mumbai after 7 years of schooling. He was in his mid-teens. He began to sell flowers and was quite successful, but life seemed so empty. He would frequent the movies, hang out with mates at street corners and was generally lost. By chance, he came to read the lives of Vivekananda and Gandhi. And gained two firm convictions. From the first, that the purpose of life was to serve others and from the second, never to preach what you did not practice.

China's incursion into India in 1962, provoked him to join the army. He was trained as a truck driver and sent to the front. There, after an accident he was alone and lost for several days. He faced death and when eventually rescued, convinced himself that he had been spared for a purpose. He foreswore marriage and determined to help his village.

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