For forty days, his friends laughed at him. For forty days, his neighbors insulted him. For forty days, his family begged him to stop embarrassing them. Yet, for forty days, Bapurao Tajne continued to dig.
Tajne lives in Kalambeshwar, a village in the Maharashtra region of India. After years of drought, the residents of this rocky corner of the world were growing desperate for water. Some villages had begun rationing their dwindling supply, and people often had to travel for miles to find a well that hadn’t gone dry.
After making one of these long treks to a working well, Tajne’s wife found herself denied access to the water her family so urgently needed. She was a Dalit, the lowest members of India’s caste system. Dalit’s were poor, uneducated, and generally despised by the higher castes. The well she had come to for water was owned by an upper caste member who insulted her and sent her away empty-handed.
Upon hearing his wife’s tale, Tajne cried. He was used to the daily struggles of life. Dalits earned their living via manual labor, often working long days for low wages. He was used to the insults his people received on a regular basis. But hearing of his wife’s shame broke him.
And then it spurred him to action. Vowing never to beg for water again, Tajne gathered what money he had and walked to the nearest town. He bought a few tools, prayed for guidance, and started digging.
It typically takes four or five men to dig a well. It’s backbreaking work and the going is slow. As the hole gets deeper, the extra hands really come in handy for moving the loose dirt and rock. But Tajne dig alone. He started early in the morning, putting in four hours of work before heading off to his day job. After returning home, already exhausted, he dug for another two.
No one came to help him. Other villagers called him a fool. There was no water, they said. The drought had rendered other wells useless, so his effort was being wasted. He’d give up soon enough.
His wife, the very catalyst for his action, pleaded with him to stop. It was bad enough being a Dalit. Why bring even more shame on the family and their community? Just accept things the way they are and move on.
Tajne ignored all the negative feedback coming his way and focused on the task at hand. Day after day, hour after hour, he chipped away at the hard, unforgiving ground. Finally, forty days after he’d first begun, he struck water.
Suddenly the attitudes around him changed. Friends gushed with words of support. His wife apologized for ever doubting him. Family members picked up shovels of their own and offered to dig alongside him. Tajne’s response shocked the world.
He had no harsh words for his critics, and no reprimand for his family. Instead of berating the doubters and turning them away, he offered them a drink from the well. He had, after all, dug it for them.
How often do we withhold service because we aren’t receiving the response we feel we deserve? How often do we wrap our acts of selflessness with expectations of self-promotion? It’s as if we’ve forgotten what service truly is. Thankfully, we have men like Bapurao Tajne to remind us.