Helping people speak out, 10 rupees a story
A young man from Pune has offered to listen to people’s stories, and offers them Rs 10 for it!
In an era where people don’t easily open up to their family or friends about problems that life throws at them, a young man from Pune has offered to listen to people’s stories without being judgemental, and offers them Rs 10 for it! Raj Dagwar, who came to Pune from Dubai for studies, has been visiting Fergusson College (FC) Road in the evenings after 6 pm with a welcoming placard that reads, ‘Tell me your story and I’ll give you 10 Rs.’ According to Raj, FC road is the heart of Pune. People come here from all over Pune and India for shopping or to hang out. It’s always a busy street, thus allowing him to help more people.
Though more young people flock FC Road in the evenings, people from almost all age groups have approached Raj and shared their stories with him. “Youngsters are more accepting of such ideas as compared to the older generation. Yet, many people above the age of 45 have also shared their stories with me, which has been really inspiring”, he says. While people have shared stories, experiences and issues about their career, relationships, studies, and other personal aspects of life with Raj, he has given them his time, money and efforts without any judgment. “It’s all worth it,” he says.
A few years ago, Raj went through a difficult phase in his life - something that he didn’t think he would easily recover from. He couldn’t approach his parents for the fear that they might not understand him or not realise what he is going through. He also feared his friends might judge him. “That phase was horrifying. I could not talk to anyone. But eventually, and fortunately enough, I spoke with my parents about it who helped me come out of that phase. But not every parent is that understanding or caring. I thought to myself, there should be someone that you can talk to without being judged,” he shares.
Later, Raj came across a post on Instagram where a young man held a placard which said, ‘Talk to me and I’ll give you $1.’ “That post inspired me and I thought that this is something we need in India right now. I thought over it, decided that I will do it, and the next day I was on FC road. And the response was just great,” he says.
For Raj, just talking to someone else and being there for others makes him feel good. He loves the idea of letting people know that they are not alone. He says that he has learned the qualities of helping others and being kind from his parents, and it is their support and blessings that encouraged him to do this. He contentedly says that his family and friends are happy that he’s doing something good for society.
Seeing a young man with such a unique placard has invited all kinds of reactions from people. People have often given him puzzled looks about what and why is he doing this. He also faced criticism about why the placard is in English and not Hindi or Marathi. But since Raj was only trying this to gauge responses and wasn’t completely prepared, he hasn’t let any criticism deter his spirit. “Some people don’t stop, don’t talk. They just look away. But the ones who stop are the ones who need me. They see the banner and say, ‘I just want to talk my heart out to you.’ They will talk until they are done. So, the ones who need me are actually approaching me and that’s what matters,” he conveys.
After talking with Raj, people mostly say, ‘Thank you for listening to me, that’s all I needed’. To this, Raj replies that if everyone takes the time to listen and help each other - and thus empower each other - then there won’t be any need for people like him who stand on a street with such a placard.
Though Raj offers Rs 10 to every person who shares their story with him, almost everyone has been hesitant to accept the money. All they need is someone listening to them without any judgment, and that’s precisely what Raj does. So, taking money from him is something they don’t find right. However, when Raj explains his philosophy, they are inspired and grateful to accept the amount. Revealing his philosophy, Raj says, “There are many people who need help, but we don’t have the time or resources to seek them and help them out. So, I’ll give you Rs 10 and I’ll ask you to help others. When I listen to you, I give my time to you. You give your time to others by giving Rs 10 to others and asking them to do the same. a This way the chain goes on and we can help each other.”
As inspiring and wholesome Raj’s idea is, the response has been equally great. He ends up listening to almost 50 people in a day, all who are grateful for sharing their story with him. Lately, the response has reached beyond FC Road to his social media page.
“The other day, I was walking home around 11:30 at night after I spent the entire day outside. I was extremely tired. My hands, legs and my back were aching. But since I was also carrying the placard in my hand, a young man approached me asking if he could talk to me. Even though I had no energy left, we talked for more than an hour. The feeling of helping someone washed away the pain and aching. Later when I reached home, I was awake until 4 am responding to messages on Instagram from people who really needed help,” he says. While it does take a physical toll on him on rare occasions, the feeling of being able to help others overshadows the mental stress.
Raj recalls a story that someone shared with him where the person was in a toxic relationship and didn’t feel valued. “I was in a similar relationship for too long and it took me years to get out of it. But when I did, I felt good, I felt free. Before I used to think that I’m the only one with such a story, but now I have realised that many people are going through what I lived. I can share my experience with them and help them. If I could get out of that relationship, then so can they,” he shares.
For Raj, every story he listens to teaches him something and leaves some impact on him as he realises how people are, and how they act and react. He learns from their mistakes and understands the significance of having a choice and making the ‘right’ decision. “Someone above the age of 40 told me that they were alcoholic and are working towards recovery. Such stories are powerful because people share about realising their mistakes late in life. So, I get to learn a lot, it impacts me, and I am also able to guide or help them to the best of my abilities. They give me strength and their experience should be worth something. Additionally, when people tell me their relationship stories and how they have been strong throughout the years overcoming all sorts of problems, it restores my faith in love,” he expresses.
Speaking about the mental health milieu in India, Raj said, “The minimum cost of a therapy session in Pune is Rs 700. For people who can’t afford it, or students who can’t tell their parents why they want to see a therapist, these prices are too high. People also think that going to therapy makes you weak and a ‘loser’. They expect you to be strong without seeking proper help. The issue of mental health needs to be destigmatised if we don’t want people to suffer in silence and then take any wrong steps.”