Nand Lal, a 78-year old retired soldier who became the face of demonetisation blues in Gurgaon, lives alone in a dingy 10x10-foot room, blocks away from the home that he once owned.
His adopted daughter seldom visits him after he married her off about 15 years ago.
“She sold the house after she got married and went away to Faridabad. Now I live here,” he said on Thursday, tapping his walking stick on the floor of his rented room at Bhim Nagar in Gurgaon’s sector 6.
A small bed, a trunk, a plastic chair, a bucket, an ashtray, water bottles and two portraits of gods Shiva and Ganesh are the only belongings the elderly man has to call his own.
And of course, an account with the State Bank of India in which the government credits his pension for his service to the nation, including braving enemy bullets and artillery shells along the border in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.
It was this very pension that he sought to withdraw at the SBI’s New Colony branch in Gurgaon, but he had to beg officials with folded hands for some cash even after queuing up for three days.
Frustrated, his eyes welled up and tears trickled down his wrinkled face.
“Humko apna paisa kyon nahi dete. Pehle tayyari kyon nahi ki”
The picture of the old man in tears, published in HT on Wednesday, became a social media sensation and stirred the conscience of a nation struggling under a cash crunch after the Narendra Modi government’s shock recall of 500- and 1,000-rupee notes.
“Humko apna paisa kyon nahi dete. Pehle tayyari kyon nahi ki... (Why aren’t they giving my money? Why didn’t they prepare),” Lal said, echoing sentiments of millions of people standing in queues for hours outside banks and ATMs across the country.
Lal was finally allowed to jump the queue and withdraw money.
“I have to pay my domestic helper, the grocer and the milkman. I got a pension of Rs 8,000 pension in first week of December. I wanted to withdraw Rs 1,000,” he said.
Lal shifted to Gurgaon from Pakistan during Partition. His wife, neighbours said, died three decades ago after which he adopted a daughter. The only contact with his daughter now is when she sends him some money. His spends his day between his room and a tea shop nearby.
“My daughter sold the house after she got married some 15 years ago. Now I live here alone,” Lal said, pointing to his living space on the ground floor of a three-storeyed house.
Dinanath Ahuja, a retired mechanic who witnessed Lal’s plight at the bank, said he hasn’t seen Lal’s daughter visiting the septuagenarian.
“He borrowed Rs 100 from me to pay the rickshaw-puller who took him up to the bank for three consecutive days.”
Lal describes his life within a squalid room, two square meals, bank queues and a daughter who doesn’t care with lines from a Bollywood song.
“Jab dil hi toot gaya, hum jee ke kya kare (What’s the use of living with a broken heart?),” he asks.