Meet Akmal Khan. At a periphery glance, you will pass him for an everyday Joe who works at a retail store and helps customers with their purchases. But just like all of us, he has another side to him. A side that almost all of us would miss when we meet him while shopping. I had a chance to hear his story and found it special – actually, inspiring. His story moved me to the extent that I thought of writing about it and sharing it with the world. So here goes.
It’s not usual for a one-day business trip to turn into a week long stay. And when it does, it even ruffles up the most experienced frequent travellers. I found myself in the very spot earlier this week in Bengaluru, India. As if I wasn’t having my share of heart burn already – I was not prepared for the extended travel and didn’t have extra formal clothing – I managed to burn to shreds the very piece I had. Sounds a bit funny, isn’t it? Well, it seems quite the opposite if you are this business traveller who ends up with no formal clothes to wear and is forced to cancel critical business meetings.
With the situation at hand, I decided to brave shopping for a new suit and landed up at a store on Brigade Road. Once in the store, I was greeted warmly with a smile by an executive called Akmal. Doing what he has been trained for, Akmal escorted me to the suits section, within minutes found me a suit of my liking and took measurements to fit to my size. True to his customer-centric attitude, Akmal worked with the in-house tailor to give me the altered, fitted suit within 15 minutes. To say the least, I was mighty impressed with the entire experience (read with Akmal) and more importantly glad that I had clothes for my meetings.
Later that day when it was finally time to don the suit for a meeting, I realised it didn’t fit me at all and needed more alteration. Without losing a minute, I called up the store and requested for Akmal to pay me a visit at the hotel. He promoptly agreed and promised to be with me within an hour. To my amazement, Akmal showed up as committed and profusely apologised for the situation at hand. Note, it wasn’t his fault in the first place and instead my wrong to not have taken care of the fitting and measurements while I was at the store.
Since Akmal took the pains of coming to the hotel promptly and showed utmost respect for my situation, I decided to sit him down for a cup of tea. I really wanted to learn from him the art of customer service – a quality he clearly endorses way better compared to his peers. Although he was hesitant (read shy), Akmal agreed. I asked him about his background and how he landed in his current role. What I heard thereafter is what promoted me to write this post.
Originally from Mysore, Akmal’s family was once a wealthy, well-known name in that Indian town.
In his words, “my father was rich and we were influential.” But then the series of tragedies struck. His father’s business suffered multiple loses and they were forced to move out to a bigger town (Bengaluru) to look for a job and sustain the family. After trying his hand at few odd jobs, Akmal succumbed to what ruled his blood, entrepreneurship. He started a small business selling locally made watches and worked hard to setup shop in a small shopping complex. What would have otherwise been the start of good things, ended up in yet another tragedy for the family. On one morning, Akmal woke up to a news that the entire complex had been gutted by fire. This event set him back by a total of INR 80,000 (US$ 1200) and zero cover from insurance.
Braving the situation and refusing to give up, Akmal used his meagre savings to start another business. Since he couldn’t afford expensive real estate, he ended up buying an unauthorised shop to get started. Little did he know this would turn out to be the reason of yet another tragedy later in his life. After a few years of running his small businesses (yes, two of them), he received yet another blow. This time it was a double whammy. The local city municipality razored down the shop without notice. The timing couldn’t be worse. While on one hand he learned of this set back (this time it was INR 2.5 Lacs/ US$ 3,600) another tough news was served to him. He was blessed with a baby boy who was born both deaf and dumb. To make matters tougher, doctors told him there was a slim chance the boy could be normal but needed to carry out a surgery costing INR 14 lacs (US$20,500). Yes, you read this right.
Even the wisest pair of hands would have given up on life post this double whammy. Akmal was only 26 when he was served this sermon from God. But once again, he refused to give up.
Acting prudently, he quickly took to a job which would cover his family for health insurance and offer soft loans. It’s now been 4 years he and his wife have been working tirelessly to ensure their son leads a normal life. It has been a back breaking journey for Akmal and his wife. While Akmal is doing his bit for his son by saving every penny of his monthly income of INR 20,000 (US$ 300) and working extra, longer hours to earn additional money, his wife has been doing her bit. For 3 years she has been accompanying her son to a special school where she has learned how to handle and nurture him and ensure fitment into society.
This hasn’t been easy on this young couple. In fact, it’s been far from it.
Despite the every possible ray of hope giving up on Akmal and his family, he hasn’t let the fire in his stomach die and remains committed to ensuring the safety and comfort of his family. In his words, “Cannot stop trying…want to ensure I do the best for my wife and my son. I couldn’t have done this without my wife – in fact, she is the reason why my son is growing up to become a confident young man! He is all of 4 years old but paints and writes really well.”
That’s Akmal Khan for you. The man from Bengaluru who refuses to give up.
Please join me in congratulating the spirit of this young man. Remember, he doesn’t need your money or sympathy. He needs your words of encouragement.
P.S.: If you know someone who is going through a difficult time in life and ready to give up, then pass them the link to this post. You might end up saving a soul, or two.