I have deleted the same topic once because I wasn’t getting married so my family said that I shouldn’t put anything online which could be embarrassing in the long run or jeopardize my prospects going forward. Anyways, let’s see if my memory serves me correct and whether I can reconstruct everything as it happened.
So a couple of kilometres away I saw a mentally challenged girl in rags sitting under a bridge and sat next to her separated by five steps when she started howling probably because I scared her. Suddenly a gentleman appeared from across the fence and politely told me to keep some distance since she was sick and that he looked after her. I apologized and sat another twenty yards away from where I saw a father-son beggar duo resting in the night. I had thrown my lenses away and since I had a power of -four, I was having a hard time seeing so I went for a closer glimpse. The boy six or eight was sniffing a handkerchief by putting some cheap shoe polish on it and offered it to me. I took a few deep breaths and slept off only to get up around five in the morning to notice them having rice and pulses on a polythene. So I went near and the boy offered me a handful and looked at me in the eye and inquired “theek hai?(is it alright?)” Happy that I had had something I realized I was close to Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah famous for Karim’s and Qawaali and that the beggars had got the food free of cost because there was a Muslim ghetto nearby. So I went along back to where the Policeman had left me. I found a sac and thought of being a rag picker and started wandering with the bag with no aim in sight and tried to walk in the shade wherever possible. To my surprise ( Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan hadn’t started) there were plenty of plastic bottles on the roadside and a couple of glass bottles that had been used for alcohol. I saw the beggar duo again late afternoon stopping cars by spreading the green cloth and asking for donations which are typical of the followers of Islam. Then I came across a Kabaadi who is typical of the sub-continent. A kabaadi is a better version of a rag picker because he has his rickshaw or shop to collect recyclable items ranging from backdated newspapers, glass bottles to cardboard. So he stopped me in my tracks and asked what all did I have? I showed him the bottles and before I could quote, offered me a price of Rs 10 for my wares. Never short of confidence, I told him that rather than sell it to a freelancer I’d much rather sell it at a kabaadi shop and knew there and then where I was headed. He tried to convince me by saying that I wouldn’t be able to improve his offer but to no avail.
I was headed to Old Delhi to sell my stuff. People not living in Delhi would not be able to realize that Old Delhi is an alternative universe with segregation so deep on caste, colour, religion, wares and by lanes so narrow and so well defined that you cannot differentiate between it and other similar cities like Varanasi or Benares and Amritsar. There is an old world charm to these places that only an avid traveller can identify. So I walked at a leisurely pace thinking that I had enough in the bag towards Delhi-6. As soon as I reached, I started searching for a shop but had to spend the next two hours before I finally found one. It was around seven or eight and I found this kabaadi in front of his shop. I offered him my belongings from the sac but he again gave me Rs 10 reasoning that only the glass bottles were of any value and not the plastic ones. Without haggling, I took it and stopped by a shop for tea and the rest of my money went towards a beedi and Shikhar Paan Masala(chewable tobacco). I stood at a bus stop away from the market hustle and bustle and right next to Red Fort hoping to catch up on some sleep when around came a rickshaw puller who offered me water. Glad, I took some gulps and thanked him in return. Then he offered me his sheet to sleep on and invited me to sleep next to him. I obliged him not knowing what lay beneath or too far ahead. He covered both of us with another sheet so that the mosquitoes would not bite or so I thought when he started stroking my genitals. I shoved his hand away but the guy was persistent and I sensed danger so I threw away the sheet and abused him saying that I didn’t want him to warm his hands. He got up right behind me with equal speed and in one motion, simultaneously, asked me why I was not sleeping with him and slapped me hard. In the immediate aftermath, my right ear went numb and I had to muster all my self-defence mechanisms and retaliated with equal force by punching him with all my might on his cheek and asked him how dare he hit me? This is where he found out that there are no free lunches and started walking away. I went on a foul mouth rant at the top of my lungs inspired by G.B road which is a Red Light area not too far away from where we were. I stopped after 40 seconds to check my surroundings and I had at least ten rickshaw pullers around that bus stop and a Police Control Room gipsy another few yards away but not a soul moved. This scared me a bit because of my security and I shut shop but wasn’t able to sleep after that. Luckily right across the road was a petrol pump with a ready supply of water and I drank some litres to kill the hunger. In the morning on that same stretch of road, there were illegal freelancers that had set up roadside shops selling wares that had been confiscated from customs, stolen, duplicates from South East Asia etc. I looked down and saw a bunch of tablets lying on the ground. I had thrown my socks and only had my Hush Puppies which had given me a wound on my left toe. So I chose Soframycin ointment and Paracetamol and started walking away from the area knowing that I couldn’t count on my luck a second time.
I went back towards New Delhi railway station away from the sociopaths of Old Delhi but the walking was a strain because the shoes kept the wound fresh. So I took them off and sat in the shade when another rag picker came by who I later realized was a smack addict. Among all the addicts what one needs to guard against is that they would do anything for a fix. Within a matter of three seconds, the smacky was away with my shoes with no trace of the shoes or him. When I was left without my last belonging, I was in panic mode and I started running hoping to find him at the next turn or by-line. Hunger was also driving me crazy and I reached a park hoping that I would find him. It was a small park which was elevated and well maintained with a few guys in attendance. My inquisitiveness got the better of me and I saw an earthen pot on the side. I opened it and found it teeming with thousands of maggots a few centimetres in length and a bottle with brownish liquid inside. The first thing that came to mind was Bear Grylls and I picked up three maggots and chewed them. Then came the bottle and it wasn’t smelling so I took a couple of swigs and it tasted just fine. So I stepped aside in the shade to sleep in the park when I was woken up by a gardener who prohibited me from sleeping inside. I went up to four guys sitting on a bench and asked them if they could give me some employment. I also told them that I hadn’t had anything to eat other than the maggots and had had water to drink from the bottle on the side. One of the guys reacted immediately and told me that I had taken poison instead of water and after careful consideration informed me that they could not offer employment. From there I started walking towards Connaught Place, Hanuman Mandir and then finally Gurudwara Bangla Sahib for some langar and some subsistence. Langar was started by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Sikh Guru, who wanted to end differentiation on the basis of caste and colour and being a Sikh, it was all that that I knew. Here was a man who hadn’t bathed or had a proper meal in four days and was sitting with the rest of the crowd to chants of “Satnam Ji, Waheguru Ji” I am not cribbing and neither am I being bitter but even before I could finish and be thankful to God, my plate was taken away by a young Sikh boy tidying up the place. So much for community service. Once I was done, I walked to Central Park in the middle of C.P above Palika Bazaar with nothing to do. Afternoon transformed into a night and I had a young couple a few meters away from where I was sitting. To get over my hunger, I swallowed an entire sheet of a newspaper.
It had been 96 hours since I had gone back to my house and my parents were in a frenzy thinking the worst for me. My dad had lodged a Police complaint thinking that it was foul play and my brother who was an I.T engineer doing his M.B.A from I.S.B, Hyderabad was helping out remotely on any clues that I might have left behind on the computer through blogs, ransom emails or a suicide note. Even my shrink mailed me asking about my whereabouts.
For the next two days, I roamed in the middle of the busiest marketplace of Old Delhi as a destitute where without begging people took me as an untouchable and gave me alms. Right in front of Jaman Masjid is the world famous Karim’s but not too many people know of a restaurant right next to it by the name of Rahmatullah run by devout Muslims who don’t just cater to commercial interests but also offer free meals to unemployed young and old if you come to them by either giving you beef biryani or keema and naan which were my meals. The wound was not healing on the left toe so I went to a government hospital nearby, L.N.J.P, to bandage my foot with gauze with some encouragement from the doctor who told me that it did not look as bad as it seemed. Again free. I threw away the bandages in the next couple of days because I could not have maintained it in the rain. After getting back from the market I found myself under Minto bridge which gave me succour from the elements. It became my home away from home on the roadside footpath above the sewer lines or drainage systems. Because of the poison and newspaper, I was suffering from Piles and did not know what to do. Forget about hunger pangs, I was losing blood from the posterior. On the same pavement some yards away, I had Ashu for a company who was a married man who had come to the city for a better life but his luggage had been stolen from the station who used to talk to me occasionally. Right till the end I found him irritating rather than comforting. He had a local relative who used to meet him every day by offering him moral and financial support and Ashu called him Chachaji.
India Against Corruption
This was an entry point for all strata with religious leanings and an urge to spend. It also had a steady stream of beggars and drug addicts from a few hundred yards away next to Hanuman Mandir. The first few days were right in the middle of India Against Corruption with Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Baba Ramdev at the forefront of the protests at the Ram Lila grounds which was just a stone’s throw away. There were a lot of visitors for the agitation and I never begged but the philanthropy of Indians is a different “kind” Not just money but Bourbon biscuits, home-cooked food, free tea from vendors coming from the stations were for the taking. This attracted the wrong kind of attention and two youths came up to me and threatened me with a pair of scissors and took away whatever had been given to me and asked for Rs 100 “hafta” or surcharge every week for sitting there. I never protested or felt anything and I gave it all up because they had bloodshot eyes and had been smoking weed or were drunk trying to mark their territory. Only on the first day did I spend on bread omelette from my collections but I soon realized that Karma was a bitch and never repeated it. In the crowd walking past I noticed my maternal uncle walking by but he did not notice or look down and neither did I shout out to him. There was a Scorpio SUV which stopped around twenty yards from where I was because a stone which was two by two feet had come loose from the footpath and was lying on the road. The driver stopped right at the edge of the stone and started giving it the throttle and within no time the stone flew across me from where I was sitting down the road and the Scorpio left. A couple of concerned youngsters were passing on a bike and noticed the stone which could have been risky for other motorists and picked it up and kept it aside. It would have weighed a minimum of 25 kgs. Approximately 150,000 people die on roads in India in a year and five people die every day on Delhi roads. Thankfully, I wasn’t one of them.
I came across a beggar who had probably noticed the kind that I had accumulated and offered me a bright green Apple which I refused without uttering a word since it must have been laced with sedatives. I stopped travelling towards the markets and then just settled down on a pasta packaging which became my bed and all that I was concerned about.
I remember this lady who came by with her son at around nine in the night and gave me home cooked food in a plastic container and proclaimed that nobody should sleep on an empty stomach. Another couple of housewives came by and one of them asked me if I would work for her in her house. By this time I had stopped talking and kept to myself whether it was rain or sunshine. Now the problem with life under the sun is that if you laze or catch sleep, inevitably a concerned citizen could come up and give you a pep talk on how to better utilize the time and going by that theme I started waking up at dawn and my alarm clock was the M.C.D sweeper who started work around the same time and it became a precursor to my day and I slept by eight or nine in the night. The kind of discipline that I showed reminded me of my school days. Even today when I look back, I am not repenting because I was at peace; when you shun everything and are bereft of your belongings you are one with your surroundings. I did think about Mom a few times but no one else came to mind. My state of mind was akin to being in a black hole. Once I started crying, thinking I should go back but then a couple of guys came up to me seeing my plight and gave me an invitation to their orphanage but I refused. Another uncle came up to me and once he was convinced that I wasn’t a drug addict, invited me to his house just in case I felt the need. I never begged but there were numerous people who gave me Rupees and coins thinking I was a baba, even calling me one because I used to just sit and stare into oblivion. An elderly Sikh gentleman used to come every day from the nearby Railway colony and used to give me tea and food in a packet. Ashu used to come by and used to beg full power not just for himself but also for me by telling people that I was mute and in the night used to take everything from under my bed which wasn’t an issue. A Panditji or priest was an early bird every day and always gave me five rupees but I never spent any of it. Now, this Minto bridge had railway tracks above us and diagonally in front of me, there was a cylindrical space two stories high which was filled with hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles collected from railway tracks by homeless, orphan boys by dumping it there and sending the bottles for recycling. One of them even turned up by my side and offered Rs 50 so that I could eat which was given to him by his master. Right opposite the bottles were a few guys who used to collect thousands of cardboard and carried them to the Old Delhi marketplace. I was right in the middle of the glitter and glamour of C.P on my right and the traditions and ingenuity of the folks of Old Delhi. A policeman came by and told me to mark my territory and notice and inform him if anything was out of place. Back at my home, the police and my dad were leaving no stone unturned to find me. Once my dad was called to the mortuary to identify a dead body because the police thought that it could be me but he did not have the guts so he took my best friend Sandeep along. I realized I had come down from 60 kilos to 45 kilos and dad was passing by his Isuzu Gemini after visiting Chandni Chowk Gurudwara and as luck would have it, he noticed, realized after five seconds and came back to pick me up and take me home.