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Meet the millionaire beggars of Mumbai

india Updated: Apr 20, 2007 12:25 IST
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Should you be shopping or dining at one of the upmarket shopping malls or high-end retro bars and restaurants at the Lokhandwala Complex in suburban Mumbai's Andheri any evening, there is a good chance that you could meet Massu.

Barefoot, squint-eyed, somewhat emaciated and wearing filthy clothes, Massu begs for alms. His working hours start at 8 in the evening and he calls it a day in the wee hours of the morning after the last diners have headed home. His takings average between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500 on a good business night.

Yes, Massu is one of the many "millionaire" beggars in India's financial and entertainment capital.

Dressed in spotless white clothes, 60-year-old Malana Khan, Massu to his acquaintances, takes an auto-rickshaw from his one-bedroom-hall-kitchen (BHK) flat in middle-class Andheri West in western suburban Mumbai and heads towards upmarket Lokhandwala complex every evening.

He changes into his "begging attire" in a lane near Adlabs and is ready for the night.

Calling it a day at around 3 am, Massu takes an auto-rickshaw back home. He stops near Yashraj Studios close to his home for a change of clothes.

And Massu holds total sway over the area he is operating in the evenings, say local restaurateurs.

"Massu simply lords over the area like a king. You will never find any other beggar in his vicinity. But you must give him credit, for he is polite to the core. He never raises his voice at anyone," said a manager of a high-end restaurant in Lokhandwala.

Besides his BHK flat at Amboli in Andheri West, Massu also owns a similar flat in neighbouring Andheri East.

Massu humbly brushes aside his sway over the area with a weary smile. "I have been operating in the area for over a decade-and-half. And people (read fellow beggars) know me and respect me," Mannu said.

"Begging for me is a full-time carrier option like any other job. On a good night I take home Rs 1,500. You see, TV actors, film stars and other well-heeled Mumbaikars frequent the joints where I beg. So the taking is usually good."

Although very guarded about his "assets" accumulated over the years, he is proud to admit that he lives with his wife and two married sons at his Amboli flat and has rented out the other flat for Rs 8,000 a month.

Though unwilling to reveal details, conservative estimates put his property assets alone at over Rs 300 million.

"I have money saved in a couple of bank accounts, beside the two flats that I own," was all the soft-spoken beggar was willing to divulge.

But Massu is not the only millionaire beggar in Mumbai.

Meet 45-year-old Bharat Bhagat, who operates around Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and the adjacent Azad Maidan in south Mumbai.

Bhagat begs during the morning and evening rush hours.

His assets: two adjacent BHK flats in central Mumbai's Parel where his family - who deal in school stationery and other study materials - stays.

A school dropout, Bhagat refuses to give up begging and join the family business.

"I just don't have the knack for business. Begging fetches me a steady income. I have been able to set up my father and brother in business and have purchased two flats where my entire joint family stays. So why give up this 'profession'?" asks Bhagat.

"With prevailing real estate rates in Parel, a middle-class residential area, two BHK flats would be worth over Rs 700 million," said sources.

"I make between Rs 300 to Rs 450 per day. The family has also rented out a shop in Bhandrup to a fruit juice centre and we get Rs 7,000 a month. My wife collects the rent," said Bhagat, who speaks impeccable English.

"I have two sons, one studying in Class 10 and the other in Class 8. I am happy and content."

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