Kailash Satyarthi was 55 years of age when he first had the opportunity to pose for a picture with a Nobel laureate – nearly three decades after he began his crusade against child slavery in his native India.
It was a “magical” moment, the 60-year-old tells me.
So these days, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner doles out magic without hesitation to those who want to take a picture with him – and the stream of eager fans is unrelenting, from fellow Nobel Laureate Barack Obama to journalists who usually eschew taking pictures with interviewees.
He is de-mistifying the Nobel Laureate.
With Mr Satyarthi there is none of the posing tactics employed by “celebrities” – no glancing away at the distance, no attempt at flexing facial muscles to get the stare just right, and when he drapes his arm around your shoulder there is genuine warmth in his embrace.
He’s had nearly forty years to perfect that embrace, one which has provided instant comfort to the innumerable innocent men, women and children he’s saved from servitude in India since giving up a career as an Electrical Engineer in the early 1980’s to establish Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA – “Save Childhood Movement”).
Mr Satyarthi and his grassroots campaign have since spearheaded the fight against child slavery in India, which is home to nearly half of all the world’s child slaves – a battle that can only be compared to trying to paddle a boat made of Papier Mache into an approaching tidal wave.
India’s capacity to thrill and inspire is matched only by its ability to leave you utterly dismayed and hopeless – from the depraved treatment of its women, the desperation of its poor to the scene of a man clad in just a pair of old boxer shorts being lowered into a filthy sewer to clean out a blockage with his bare hands which I witnessed during a visit to Delhi some years ago.
Just because, as an “untouchable”, society required him to do such work.
It is the sort of depravity that Mr Satyarthi has witnessed first-hand during his work with BBA over the last 32 years, saving India’s most down-trodden, most desperate and most hopeless.
And yet the one quality that he exudes above the myriad others – serenity, dignity, wisdom, ad infinitum – is his unbridled optimism and hope.
Alfred Nobel meant for the prize named after him to honour those who “encouraged fraternity between nations, who worked for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.
In the age of Islamic State, of unilateral military action, of “shock and awe” and of record defence budgets, the Nobel Peace Prize is given those who promote the hope that Alfred Nobel held so dear.
Few embody that sense of hope than Kailash Satyarthi.
I caught up with Mr Satyarthi as he prepared to deliver the key note speech at this year’s British Asian Trust gala.