When I was a child, my parents took care of me. Now, it’s my turn for they are old and need care,” says Muhammad Aslam, a 32-year-old beggar. I found him on a street in Nizamuddin Basti, a 14th century village whose principal attraction is the sufi shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.
Aslam effortlessly invites sympathy from passers-by. Crying for alms — “Give something to this helpless man” — his voice becomes high-pitched, his tone melodious. His special ability is God-gifted. Disabled since birth, he has no hands, no legs. Moved by his limbless figure, people leave all sorts of things — currency notes, bananas, biscuit packets, and curiously, basketball caps — in front of his feet. If it’s money, Aslam lowers his head, picks the note into his mouth before dropping it into his shirt pocket. “Whatever I earn, I give it to Abba and Ammi.”
Aslam lives with his parents in a slum in Mehrauli, south Delhi, and commutes by public transport. “People help me board the bus,” he says. Having no regular place to beg, he goes wherever his heart tells him to go. This was his last week’s schedule:
Monday — Madangir
Tuesday — Okhla Mandi
Wednesday — Govindpuri
Thursday — Sai Baba Mandir, near Lodhi Road
Friday — Hauz Khas mosque
Saturday — Nizamuddin Basti
On Sunday, he stays home. “The body gets tired,” he says. “If only I get a public telephone booth, I will not have to beg.” Few months ago, Aslam tried meeting his area’s politician to get help, but could not go beyond the secretary’s office.
His father had a fruit stall in Govindpuri Subzi Mandi, a vegetable market near Mehrauli. “Abba was harassed by authorities so much that I forced him to sell the space for Rs 3,000. I told him, ‘You sit, I will earn’.”
The sense of responsibility towards his aging parents has not aged Aslam prematurely. Very zesty, he often laughs and cracks jokes with fellow-beggars. Once, he fell for a beggar in Nizamuddin Basti and wished to marry her immediately. His mother did not let him. “Ammi feared that the girl was trying to fool me. She asked why would any girl be in love with me.”
Doesn’t Aslam get angry with Allah? “Never. Allah took away my two arms and gave me a thousand hands,” he says. “Some give me food. Some give me water. Some give me money. Some pick me and help me board the bus. I’m not alone.”