“Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
– Norman MacEwan
On a non-descript street called Bharat Ram Road, located next to the local police station in Old Delhi’s Darya Ganj area, live Birender and Sunil, two men who would be counted as being ‘poor’ by most that pass by them, but thereare life’s lessons to be learnt by seeing the way they live, which is by giving more than they get!
Birender is a night guard and car cleaner for cars on this street whereas Sunil is a 50 year old handicapped and dwarfed man who came to Delhi from Muzaffarnagar area in Bihar 30 years back. Sunil runs a stationary stall on this street, and he makes his living by selling chips and chewing gums, tobacco pouches and cigarettes, alongside running a recently set up phone booth.
For the past 15 years, Birender who himself earns a paltry sum of Indian Rupees 2500-3000 per month (US dollars 50-60), has been spending a part of his earnings in feeding over 20-25 street dogs that inhabit this street and area adjoining his rented one room quarter in Ferozeshah Kotla where his teenage son stays. Not only does Birender feed all these dogs religiously every night but he along with Sunil also spends on their medicines and ointments should anyone of them fall sick or get injured by any of the cars that hit them. Over these years, both of them have healed many a broken bones, swollen limbs of these street dogs to recovery.
Who would understand the pain of these handicapped dogs better than Sunil who is inflicted with polio too and thus, can’t stand on his legs and walks using his deformed hands. For Birender tending to his canine mates is his moral responsibility towards keeping his faithful companions fit and fine as they are the ones who bark and scare away many a robbers and drug addicts who try stealing and damaging the cars that he guards for at night.
Birender came over from Nepal to Delhi in 1991 with his family which included his wife and a son. For four years thereafter he worked as a security guard with various shopping streets in Darya Ganj before making Bharat Ram Road his chosen workplace. From then on, he has been guarding this street like his very own and earns his living by the amounts that get paid to him by people inhabiting the street in lieu cleaning their cars by daytime and guarding them at night.” “And from then on, these street dogs have been my companions”, said Birender.
In the interim period, Birender lost his wife and the responsibility of raising his young son, Binod also fell on his shoulders. “These dogs helped me overcome my loneliness and depression, they give me unconditional love, respect, don’t ask me questions, neither do they ridicule or mock at me, thus, they are my friends and I am theirs”, said Birender when asked about his special bond with his canine cohorts.
Every evening at round 6 pm, you could see Birender kneading the dough and next to him, you would find his Kerosene oil–based cooking stove. Every day Birender knead roughly 1 kg of wheat flour into dough, this cost him about Rs.18 per kg. He makes rotis (Indian breads) for his son and his dogs on the same stove with parity. “Thick and Thin, I end up cooking about 100 rotis per day and that gives all of us i.e. me, my son Binod and the dogs a minimum of 2-3 rotis to fill our stomachs with easily”, he said. “When I get lucky with a tip or two from one of my customers, then that day, I feed the dogs with some milk as well along with the rotis, else I serve them dry”, added Birender.
By this time, Birender’s teenage son Binod also dropped by to pick up his rotis for the day from his father and also hand him over the cooked vegetables and pulses. Binod stays in the rented room that cost them Rs.500 a month while Birender stays next to Sunil’s stall while going to the rented room off and on. ‘That’s for my son to do his studies in peace”, explained Birender.
Though not educated himself, Birender is spending on his son’s university education, both via a university degree studies through correspondence and by getting him technically trained by admitting him in the state run Technical Institute for a 2 year Diploma Course which costs him Rs.1200 for a 6 month semester.
“I admire my father for the way he looks after so many animals. He is a great father who has toiled extremely hard to bring me up and educate me. He never forced me to into child slavery, instead got me educated”, exclaimed Binod proudly when asked about his father.
As we spoke, one by one, Birender’s canine buddies assembled for their meals. When asked off their names, Birender answered that, they had none! “They just come when I call them, I need no names, and they understand my language”. That’s what is referred to as the language of love that needs no words…I also noticed that most of these street dogs were sterilized and vaccinated against rabies as identified by the notch on their ears, perhaps done so under the city municipality’s Animal Birth control or ‘ABC’ Programme.
A brown colored three legged dog was amongst the first ones to come over for his meal. When asked about him, Birender explained, “He was hit by a speeding car that drove over one of his legs. We helped dry the wound. Slowly the flesh and bones rotted away and one day this leg got amputated on its own. He is doing fine now as you can see”.
Then I met another disabled black dog who had a hump on his back. How did that happen? To which Sunil answered that, “a neighbourhood guard hit him on his back with a bamboo stick. He could not walk for days, perhaps paralyzed in his spine. We rubbed Voveron ointment every day and gave him pain relievers. We are happy that at least he can walk on his feet now, despite the limp and the hump”.
Sunil is a person who values his self-respect; despite being handicapped he has never begged for mercy or sought favours. “Everyone treats me with respect, even the local policemen who drop by at my shop, never pay me a dime less than what I ask. Gupta ji, a retailer living nearby helps bring stuff from my shop as I can’t travel around and I pay him for that”.
“This chair was gifted to me by Rajat bhai (a neighbourhood resident he refers to as a brother). I feel like a king sitting on it, it is very comfortable”, said a smiling Sunil pointing his hands towards the cushioned chair he sits on.
Despite their hardships, all these men live contended lives. They have large hearts with abundant love and genuine smiles!
Meeting benevolent souls like Birender and Sunil reaffirms the wise old saying that, “one doesn’t get rich by what we have; we get rich and happy by what we give and share!”.
As I make my journey home, I observe an unknown lady dressed like a labourer walks across Darya Ganj’s Mother Dairy (Milk Booth) and buys packets of milk, opening one each in crates outside the Dairy outlet, two cats come to feed from the crate on the top of the pile whereas two street dogs sip milk from the crate on the floor. As I try to stop the lady and check in on who she is, she disappears into oblivion and darkness of the night. The Milk Booth officer tells me, that she comes and does this every evening. I am humbled.
Giving joy, care or love to someone doesn’t require a reason.
Experience the joy of unconditional giving by sharing what you have, for it is the joy that we give to others that ultimately comes back to us.
Text and Images: Vasudha Mehta (C) JAAGRUTI