Niyaz Panakaje is an assistant professor of commerce and management at Srinivas University in Mangaluru, Karnataka. A native of Sonanduru village, about 60 km from his workplace, the 29-year-old holds a bachelor’s degree in commerce and recently earned a PhD. Becoming a professor is the only dream he carried for years, and he fought his way up to stand among hundreds of students, giving them lessons.
Though, at the onset, it may seem like an ordinary story of a village boy earning a decent living, the journey of Niyaz is extraordinary as it exemplifies what sheer determination and grit and help achieve in a person.
Despite being the youngest sibling among eight, Niyaz has juggled many hats to earn for his family and pursue his dream of becoming a scholar.
His father, Ibrahim, worked as a coolie, and his mother, Zubeda, rolled beedis. But the income was never enough to feed the ten-member family. “From an early age, I realised the need of financially supporting the family. I started selling newspapers when I was in class four and worked as domestic help, such as cleaning toilets, dishes, and other chores. We received food and money in return. The small amount helped to feed the family,” he says.
Left no stone unturned
Since his childhood, Niyaz claims to have done over 20 odd jobs, some of them he cannot remember, and strains his memory while recollecting his journey for The Better India.
“My siblings and I worked on any job that came on the way. At times we were called to carry luggage as a coolie. At the same time, on occasions, we went to work as agricultural labourers picking cow dung, cleaning grass or pursuing other farm activity. We had no option but to accept all the work for money,” he says.
Among other things, Niyaz says he cut trees, climbed areca nut, coconut, mango, jackfruit trees to pluck fruits and plenty of other things. “I worked at grain mills, a salesman at the ration shop and repaired bicycles. The jobs continued till 2009 when I finished class XII,” he adds.
However, in 2012, he took admission to pursue a graduate degree in commerce and took riskier jobs for a better income. “There were fewer volunteers to dig wells as it came with immense risks. As the labourers dig almost 150 feet into the ground, the land could slide, or rocks fall on the workers. But it paid Rs 50 a day, which was a good sum,” Niyaz says.
In 2014, he started pursuing his Masters in Commerce at St Agnes Centre for Postgraduate Studies and Research, and took a job as a mason and involved himself in dangerous places like constructing pillars and building slabs. Additionally, he drove an auto-rickshaw and worked as a receptionist at a lodge.
Niyaz joined as a part-time lecturer between 2014 and 2016 in Badria First Grade College and The Yenepoya College, Mangalore. In 2016, he joined as a full-time assistant professor at St Agnes Centre for Postgraduate Studies and Research until he completed his PhD. He moved to Srinivas University in November 2020.
Niyaz completed his degree and applied for a PhD in 2016 with the same institute to research the topic – ‘Role of cooperative banking in the socio-economic development of rural Muslim community.’
He became eligible for a Rs 25,000 fellowship, but this was never credited on time. “Hence, I continued doing the odd jobs and even sold fish in the market,” Niyaz says, adding, “I was physically fit, and there was no reason stopping me from doing any work that could help the family financially.”
Example of pure grit and determination
However, during all the struggling years, he never let his academics get affected nor allowed his focus to shift from the ultimate goal of becoming a teacher. “I always wanted to become a teacher as the work to educate the masses and create knowledgeable generations fascinated me. If I pursue competitive examinations, I can become a collector or a police officer. But a teacher can create hundreds of able officers who can commit themselves to the welfare of the people. A teacher has much potential,” he cites.
Niyaz says that he studied equally hard and scored 81 per cent in class XII. He completed graduation and post-graduation with 72 per cent and 65 per cent, respectively. “I attended classes in the college and worked during the day hours and spent late evenings studying. But during my masters, I worked night shifts. At times I drove an auto-rickshaw until late and appeared for exams the next day,” he adds.
The assistant professor says to ensure good performance in examinations, he took off during weekends and focussed on studies. “My life was very hectic and physically demanding, but I wanted to become a teacher and study as much as I could. I was more careful about limiting the physical work and study more during exams,” he adds.
His former students are a witness to his struggle and consider him as a source of inspiration. Delan Lobo, a student at St Agnes Centre for Postgraduate Studies and Research between 2016 and 2018, says, “The struggle of Niyaz sir is encouraging and has inspired hundreds. We have great regards for him and a constant source of motivation. We have seen him arriving by an auto-rickshaw driven by his brother to the college, and later he would drive the same vehicle to ferry passengers and earn money.”
Delan says that Niyaz also gave free tuitions for students and guided them in their studies.
His brother Nawaz is the only other member in the family to pursue a graduation in business management. “We all struggled hard, but Niyaz went the extra mile to achieve success. His day started at 5 am and ended late hours. We were financially poor, but poverty did not exist in terms of education or academics for him,” he says.
Nawaz adds the entire family is proud of him and his achievements. “He has even become popular in the village,” he says.
Besides the PhD he was awarded in 2021, Niyaz has been an ardent academician writing about various topics. He has contributed over 25 journals and research papers on different platforms.
Along with teaching at the university for a living, Niyaz spends time supporting students in education. “I provide career guidance for needy students and support in their higher education for free. I have experienced the problems faced as an underprivileged and want to empower the segment of society,” he says.
Niyaz says he plans to apply for a fellowship to pursue Doctor of Literature D. Litt abroad. “Through the studies, I want to develop a socio-economic indicator model and a platform to uplift the underprivileged sector,” he adds.
On concluding notes, Niyaz says that one should not shy from doing any work. Every job has dignity. I don’t feel there is any job that I cannot do. I have done all kinds of work which has made me an expert in those respective fields. With years of unique experiences, I know I can survive any odds in life,” he adds.
Edited by Vinayak Hegde