Like many of us who like to start our day with a hot cup of tea and the newspaper of our choice, PK Banerjee cannot do without his daily dose of news. But unlike most of us who just have the time to go through the headlines and give the sports news and funnies a quick read, Banerjee devours as many as six newspapers. Also, the papers don’t arrive neatly folded on his doorstep. He begs for them on the Chakradharpur-bound trains that he calls home.
Banerjee does not look like the average beggar and there’s a reason for it. He has a Masters degree in English, once served in the Indian Navy and was a family man. But having spent most of his savings on his cancer-stricken daughter and having been deserted by his two sons, the octogenarian is now like any other homeless person that roams trains and stations here. Only his hobby sets him apart from the rest.
An ardent reader, Banerjee reads three English dailies, two Bangla papers and one Hindi paper. The Hindustan Times is a particular favourite. “I read the Hindustan Times, The Statesman, Anand Bazar Patrika, Protidin… I like HT for its selection of news. It is a standard newspaper that has a perfect blend of all types of news, be it from rural areas or from the cities,” he says.
Daily passengers who know him well donate their papers to him willingly after they are done. Even those who may be seeing him for the first time feel compelled to give him his daily read.
Banerjee has nothing much to say about his sons. When anyone asks about them, he responds in English: “No father should expect from his sons. I do not want to utter the names of my sons.”
When he remembers fighting for his daughter’s life, he says tearfully: “I spent nearly Rs 20 lakh but could not save her. I am penniless now. So, I am of no use to my sons. Why should they home a burden?”
Banerjee is also one of the few associates of Yogesh Banerjee, an eminent freedom fighter from Bengal and the father of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.