The Greater Hurdler
The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.
—Moliere, French playwright and actor
Come to think of it, Abdulgani (Ganibhai) Shaikh could have made a living by happily selling buffalo milk all his life in Kapadwanj in Gujarat. With his high level of intelligence, he could perhaps have become a milk magnate. That career option would have been like a walk in the park. But Abdulgani always wanted to learn and was determined to educate himself. He also wanted to see the world. Somehow he never lost sight of this vision. He wanted to pursue higher studies overseas, and he didn’t let that song die out in his heart. If he saw hurdles in his journey, he knew deep within that he simply had to find a way to go past them. And he has done so, many times over.
Today at age 76, he’s seen it all. From being a crooning milk boy who loved imitating his favorite film hero Dilip Kumar in his spare time to becoming an aerospace engineer in the West Coast of the USA that ended up rubbing shoulders with the best in the business, Abdulgani has played his part. Even in the dignified autumn of his life, there’s a new spring in his step, a youthful and infectious charm to his character that endears him greatly to his community. Fondly he is called Ganibhai, in continuation of a tradition of referring to adult men as bhai in his native Gujarat.
Ganibhai was born in Kapadwanj in Gujarat in 1940. He was the eldest of ten siblings, and even though his father, Umarbhai, a tailor, worked extremely hard, the family income always seem to disappear halfway into the month. His paternal grandfather Muhammadbhai sold oil extracted from peanuts and sesame seeds using a bullock-aided oil peeler. Ganibhai’s mother, Rabia, had received buffalos from her father, Afzal Daud, and she supplemented the family income by selling milk. So becoming a milk boy that would knock on doors with his can in tow came easy and naturally to the young Abdulgani. He would sing his way to sell milk in his town, and his charming smile won him friends and customers with the same ease with which his family milked its buffaloes.