Every day Tulsi Rani Devi (65) extends her hands for a living on Dum Dum Station road. But Wednesday was different. For a change she dressed well, pulling out a new saree - lying unused ever since a club donated it two years ago - from her sack (it is her almirah).
Even Ram Das (63), another beggar, turned out in a white dhoti and Punjabi, donated by a kindred soul. And Kishu Bapari (41), who is handicapped, wore a clean pant and shirt before boarding his wheel chair at Burranagar.
They were all going to Sodhpur Natagar, to attend a wedding reception. And they were not going to beg for food there. After all it is not everyday that beggars get an invitation card.
Malay Saha of Sodhpur Natagar had invited some 250 street beggars from Sealdah to Sodhpur to his son's reception (boubhat) party.
And it was no formal invitation. Malay (52), his wife son and their son had personally set out to invite the beggars. In the last fortnight they had travelled to Sealdah, Maniktala and Shyambazar, approaching beggars of all types: plain, singing, handicapped and monk.
They asked the beggars for their names, wrote it down on the envelopes and handed it to the beggars.
The tradition runs in the family. Malay's father, Satish Chandra, had invited 175 beggars to his wedding party. "Even when I tied the knot, 200 beggars had been invited. You won't understand the joy they received today. And they blessed my son and daughter-in-law from their heart," said Malay.
The beggars were at first confused, more so because even the invitation cards looked costly. "I thought it was a joke. Most of us blind beggars were debating if we should attend at all. But we came out of curiosity," said Nabi Maharaj, a roadside singing beggar from Sealdah area.
Nabi Chandi Ram of Ariadaha in Belghoria said, "The family members came to me, offered a 'namaskar' and gave me the invitation card. They gave me their address and asked me to attend the marriage party. I couldn't believe it".
And they were more than overwhelmed with the treatment they received. Nabi Chandi Ram (70) began begging when he was 45. But in so many years, Wednesday was the first time that he felt no different from others.
The guests were not made to sit under the open sky; they had been invited to a marriage hall, called 'Pravashni'.
Mampi, the new bride and Malay's daughter-in-law, personally served the beggars, treating them to rice, pulses, fish fry, fish, 'chutney' and 'mishti'.
That was not all. After the food, Malay distributed the sarees, dhoti and fruits to beggars. Mampi is glad with her father-in-law's decision. Malay hopes the next generation would keep the tradition alive.