“For 54 years, I was a roadside tea-seller. But today, I am a Padma Shri tea-seller,” beams Odisha-based 61-year-old D Prakash Rao, who was conferred the prestigious award on Republic Day by the Government of India.
Sixty-one year old Padma Shri awardee Devarapalli Prakash Rao spoke about his journey from being a ‘chaiwala’ to receiving the Padma Shri award at his recent visit to the city. Rao was conferred a life time achievement award by Rotary club, Visakhapatnam. Rao received the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award as recognition for providing affordable education to children coming from poor families.
The eldest among siblings, Rao was six years old when he started earning, helping his father who was a roadside tea seller in Cuttack. As years passed by, running the tea stall became his primary job. At the age of 17 he was struck by paraplegia (an impairment in motor or sensory function of the lower half of the body).
Rao was partially paralysed and had suffered sensory loss due to paraplegia which led to a tumour which was detected in his spinal cord. He was in a dire need of blood, but none of his family members were eligible to donate. Unfortunately, blood was not easily available and Rao was struggling for life. In what he calls as a miracle, Rao says, “I still do not know who it was who gave me a new lease of life by donating one unit of blood. This was the turning point of my life.
When I started recovering after spending six months at the government hospital, all that I thought was that I needed to contribute to society as much as I can. Since then, I have never looked back. Till now I have donated blood around 218 times and have donated platelets around 17 times.”
Around 19 years ago, Rao started teaching children in one of the two rooms of his thatched house. He not only taught them but also provided them free mid-day meals. Rao is now a tea seller, an educationist and a receptionist at the same government hospital guiding people according to their needs.