The life and times of a Delhi beggar
51-years-old Babaji has been begging for the past six months in a bid to raise money for his niece's dowry.delhi Updated: Dec 12, 2007 11:32 IST
Babaji was born without hands or forearms, and so he is not surprised that he has ended up begging in a subway in New Delhi.
"My arms have been like this since birth. It is God's will," he said in an interview. "I never went to school -- how would I hold anything?"
Although Babaji, 51, is resigned to never marrying himself, weddings have nonetheless proved the bane of his life.
He came to Delhi about six months ago with a seemingly hopeless target: to raise the 50,000 to 70,000 rupees he reckons he needs to pay the dowry of his niece.
He is doing this by begging for pennies.
Smiling at passersby from his usual spot, he sits crosslegged with a bowl on the floor in a central subway, lifting the stumps of his arms imploringly.
The practice of paying a dowry is illegal in India, but remains the norm, and Babaji has assumed the responsibility of finding the money as the eldest man in the family.
"My sister's husband died. It was God's will. She has two daughters, and I have to get one married," he said. "It's my responsibility."
Begging is illegal too, but so far Babaji has not been caught and jailed, despite promises by Delhi's leaders to lock up the city's beggars before the 2010 Commonwealth Games take place.
Babaji says he earns 50 to 60 rupees a day, sometimes 100.
"Only God knows how I'll get the money," he said. "I have no money right now. I have nothing saved. I just manage to eat."
All he knows is that he is even less likely to find the money back home in his village in Uttar Pradesh.
Babaji was a teenager when his father died, but most of the money made by selling the family clothes shop went to pay the dowry of Babaji's sister, about 30,000 to 40,000 rupees, he said.
"I loved the village. The people there love me. I am forced to live here," he said.
Here no one ever smiles at him and people rarely talk to him, except for a vegetable seller who lets Babaji sleep on a patch of pavement near his shop.
The vegetable seller makes sure Babaji does not go hungry.
"He says that I'm lucky for him," Babaji said.
He says he does not feel bitter about his situation.
"No one is responsible for this state of mine," he said. "It is God's will."