Ram Chaudhary's broken dreams

Now homeless, he left his village after a property dispute with brother

With moist eyes, Ram Kumar Chaudhary emerges from a drab shed in which over a hundred homeless people watch Hindi films on a large television screen.

 Inside, an emotional scene between Amitabh Bachchan’s character and his mother unfolds. The scene reminded Chaudhary of his own mother and he has stepped out on the excuse of smoking a bidi.

The 55-year-old man lost his parents in the late 1970s. When he could take no more taunts from his brother over a property dispute, he left his home in Bihar’s Samastipur district in the 1980s. “I had vowed not to return till I bought a house of my own. I have never gone back,” Chaudhary, high on  bhang, tells Deccan Herald.A government job was the respected thing in his village. He could not land one and that made finding a bride for him difficult. Today he has no job, no family and no roof over his head.

He has been living on the pavement and in parks for the last 20 years, he claims. “I was one of the first to begin living here almost a decade ago. Other people shifted here only some years ago,” says Chaudhary referring to a spot in Kashmere Gate area where hundreds of homeless people dwell. 

During his early days in Delhi, he shared a room in Ajmeri Gate area with some others. He has been without a shelter ever since, after being driven out by three landlords for not paying the rent on time.

He did manage to find a space for himself in the shelter homes at this location near Nigam Bodhi Ghat, but he vacated it soon. He says the shelter homes are infested with bedbugs.

His belongings now include four blankets, a large plastic sheet, a pair of clothes, a slipper set, a plate, a water bottle, soap and hair oil. The blankets are a new acquisition after the old ones were swept away by rains last year. They have been neatly stacked and covered by the plastic sheet under a large tree in a low-lying area near the shelter homes. 

Slippers are the items most sought by thieves. “I have lost three pairs in the last 10 days,” he says, adding he is unaware if the pair he is wearing is his own. But despite thieves lurking around, Chaudhary chooses not to trust NGO workers with whom several other homeless persons deposit their little savings.

In any case, the little money he earns working odd jobs is spent mostly on the bhang and tobacco products he continues to consume. He gave up more dangerous drugs, including inhaling chemicals, a couple of years ago. “When many people died in the winters, the NGOs told us the drugs don’t let you feel the cold and you die before you can wake up,” he says.

The NGOs also inspired him to bathe often. Earlier he would bathe once a fortnight and wear the same shirt till it rotted. He would then discard it and purchase a new one from pavements for Rs 20-30. The process would repeat.

Chaudhary beats the cold by covering himself with four-five blankets. When it rains, he says he hides under the plastic sheet till the downpour stops. Summer season is the most comforting as he has found a cool spot under the tree.

Till some time ago, he could fight off other homeless people who tried to displace him from a dry spot under a nearby flyover. “I am old now and others don’t include me in their groups. In any case, they won’t allow you to sleep for too long,” he says. Most other homeless men have formed groups of four or five to stand by them in case of quarrels over sleeping space.

All day goes in waiting for contractors to arrive in vans and buses to take him and others for work as labourers. He says he gets Rs 200-250 for a day’s work. But he says work is hardly available for 10-12 days a month. 

Wednesday, when Deccan Herald met him, was one of those unlucky days. On such days, like several other homeless people taking shelter there, he pays Rs 10 to watch four films on the trot through the day. When the financial situation gets desperate, he visits monuments nearby and offers to guide tourists.

Free food, distributed by more fortunate people has kept Chaudhary and hundreds like him glued to the spot. “They come in vans and distribute food thrice a day. Though many people return without food, the distributors know me by face and generally ensure I get to eat,” he says.

If he gets unlucky, there are a few temples in a radius of 2 kms where free lunch and dinner is distributed. “The quantity served here today won’t fill my stomach. A sardar comes six days a week and brings food in abundance. But on Wednesdays, his assistant comes and he offers only two rotis with vegetables,” says Chaudhary.

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