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One good turn…

He was a juvenile delinquent turned autorickshaw driver. Raja T now spends his days reaching out, physically and emotionally, to the ailing and homeless in Bangalore. Naveen Ammembala reports. Meet the care-giver

india Updated: Feb 05, 2013 02:30 IST
Naveen Ammembala

Raja T aka Auto Raja grew up in a Bangalore chawl, dropped out of school at age 10 and had taken to a life of petty crime by his early teens.

He had always preyed on those weaker than himself, bullying children in his class into hand over their pocket money and eventually stealing his mother's gold chain and running away to Chennai in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, where he lived on the streets and thieved for a living.

At age 16, he was arrested. Even for the street-hardened youngster, detention in a remand home was a desolate experience. It was then that he made a promise to God. "I swore that if I ever regained my freedom, I would earn an honest living and find a way to help those less fortunate than myself," he says.

Raja was released on bail 10 days later (he was eventually acquitted). Determined to keep his promise, he returned home and applied for an autorickshaw driver's licence.

A few months later, while driving his autorickshaw around Bangalore, he saw an emaciated, lice-ridden old man near a garbage dump, shuddering from disease. With no money to help him, Raja drove on. But the image haunted him and, a few days later, he returned to the spot.

The man was not there. Locals told Raja he had died that first night.

Ashamed and troubled, Raja resolved never to pass another destitute person without helping. From then on, he lifted every ailing beggar he saw in his arms and drove to the nearest home, NGO or government hospital.

He soon began spending his savings on basic medicines and food for these cast-offs. In 1997, he rented a 30-sq-ft shack in Doddagubbi, on the outskirts of Bangalore, and turned it into a shelter.

He called it Home of Hope. As the numbers he tended to grew, as people saw him return day after day to lift the filthy, ailing, homeless in his arms and carry them to help, donations began to pour in from individuals, charities and trusts.

Today, the 46-year-old runs an 80-bed facility set on a half-acre plot donated by a Christian organisation in Doddagubbi.

A total of 450 people are housed here, with those who can move about helping with household chores and tending the vegetable gardens in the grounds.

The facility is funded via Raja's trust, New Ark Mission, and is open to anyone who has been turned out of their homes and needs care - from sick senior citizens and babies to mentally challenged people of all ages and unwed mothers.

Raja no longer drives an autorickshaw. Home of Hope has become a full-time job, one he pursues with the help of his wife, a homemaker, and his three children, whom he supports on a monthly salary of Rs 20,000 that he draws from the trust.

Every morning he still heads out himself, in a donated van. "I lift each person off the road with my own hands," he says. "They are often lice-ridden and ailing from skin diseases, but to me each one represents the God I made my promise to."