Raju was seven years old when his father got remarried. He had lost his mother a few years back due to tuberculosis. She was the only person who took care of him. Raju was born without legs. Polio was at its peak, and children with deformed bodies were a common sight.
As fate has it, a few months after the remarriage, his father passed away. Raju’s stepmother sold all the properties leaving nothing for Raju. She moved back to her parents and made Raju penniless. He had no option but to pick up begging.
Raju has been in this business for almost a decade. He says most people have been empathetic to him. He finds schoolkids among the ones taking most care of him. Some would feed him their lunch or others some chocolates.
Raju speaks in broken English, and his confidence can be addictive for some. I remember him telling me one day: Atul Babu, Bhikari aur Baniye me koi farak thore he hai. Dono dusre se paisa he to mangte hai. I spilled my chai and laughed uncontrollably. Another day I met, he was unhappy over the alcohol ban in Bihar.
Aamiro ko hamesa Daru mileage, garibo ko das guna Dena padega, said Raju. I felt pity for him. Alcohol has been his best friend; he would call it god’s nectar to sideline the world’s misery. I always thought Raju is a Khabri(secret police eye on the street), feeding all the news. Raju’s negotiation skills have won him many friends. He would be the go-to guy to settle any vendor’s fight at the sabzi market.
Last week I heard Raju passed away. Many say COVID made him isolated from the rest, as most of us stayed indoors. There was no one around to talk, fight and share chutkulas, gaalis with him. He had lost weight and could not survive the winter. I think it was isolation, not COVID, which could have killed him.
The police found 12 lakhs of cash from his hut[old and new notes], a lot of many coins, and a family photo of Raju with his parents. A letter written in broken English said: Anathalaya ka paisa.
RIP Raju, you had a post-death plan: Making life better for the poverty-stricken with your saved money.