At 137 years, Habib Miyan is as old as Mahatma Gandhi would have been on Sunday. But we would never have heard of him if it wasn’t for a pesky bank clerk.
A few months after he was posted at the Transport Nagar branch of the State Bank of India in Jaipur in 1998, banker Rajesh Nagpal saw the frail, old man who would come to collect pension. Not that he got a lot of money as pension, but Nagpal wasn’t sure if the old man was right about his age. Nagpal then dug into dusty bank records and found Habib Miyan was right.
But for Habib Miyan, the record he holds —that of India’s oldest man — means little except that he is fortunate to have had a little more time than others would have to spend with his grandchildren.
Habib Miyan’s eyesight is failing him but not his zest for a lively conversation. He loves an audience — any time of the day. "Ek sansar aa gaya, ek sansar chala gaya. Bhagwan lagta hai mujhko bhool gaye," (an entire generation has come and another has gone. Looks like God has forgotten me)," he says.
He has just had his hip joint operated upon but dismisses the pain. "The time has come to open the stitches," he says, pointing to his hip. "There is a slight pain that bothers me but my leg is getting better."
When he is not talking, he hums to himself. He played the clarinet for the Jaipur State Band till 1938. He retired that year and has been drawing his pension since then. "Miyan received Re 1 and 86 paise as his first pension," said his brother's son, Chote Khan, chuckling at the incredulity.
Habib Miyan has no children. But he has two worlds — the one in which he lives and the other, a collage of images in his memory.