Clad in a dusty T-shirt and torn cargo pants with a dirty towel wrapped around his rucksack, a Frenchman has been begging on the streets of Mumbai for the past four days.
Peter Miguel, 31, is stuck in India, having had his passport, air tickets, mobile phone, money and credit cards robbed by the first taxi driver he met in Mumbai. And when this correspondent tried to speak to him, the true depth of Miguel's helplessness came to the fore — he knows no Hindi and his English is broken at best. “I French. Know no English,” he said before scribbling ‘Peter Miguel, 31, Paris’ on a piece of paper. The conversation then ensued primarily in sign language. On a tour of India, the Frenchman arrived in Mumbai from
Goa on February 1. He met the taxi driver and ever since, the footpath outside the grand building of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus has been his home and alms his earnings.
And things would have continued indefinitely this way had RN Salhi not stepped in. A lawyer practising in the Esplanade Metropolitan Magistrate's court, Salhi came across Miguel and took him under his wings.
“The other beggars in the area were after his life. Had I not saved him, who knows what they would have done,” Salhi said. The truth of this corroborated when one of the beggars, when asked for a reaction to Miguel’s helplessness, responded angrily: “Kya India main bikharion ki kami hai jo yeh firangi yahan pe aagaya (is there a dearth of beggars in India that this foreigner has landed here)?”
Salhi said Miguel will now appear at the holiday court to verify the status of his visa, “which has probably expired”. “But I have requested the Bar Committee to allow him to stay in India for a few days more,” he added. Salhi has also contacted the French Consulate at Nariman Point. “They told me to get him to the consulate on Monday.”
Miguel also claims some policemen thrashed him twice when they found him sleeping on the footpaths.