120th recipient of help (livelihood bicycle) :
“The song of Life is now playing for me,
Sweet music, sounds and sights.
I hold life in my arms, I live in paradise,
Because I care to Dream that life.”
Ajay Sawant Pawar (44)
When I would pass a street near Matunga west, early morning around 5.30 am on my rides, I would see a young man and an older lady shifting crates of milk on a pavement near Hinduja Hospital. The lady was very skinny, and her white hair made me perceive her as old from the distance. Yet she moved those milk laden creates with great energy. And I had noticed that even though I would rush by them at 25 to 30 kmps, both eyes focused mostly on the road ahead.
On subsequent rides past that same spot, I noticed that the milk man’s bicycle was old, probably as old as his work partner. I was keen to someday stop and ask him if he needs a new bicycle.
One morning, I did. When I was not in a tearing hurry to kiss the cool breeze which awaited me like a well-deserved reward at the end of Nariman Point. The milk man was Ajay Sawant, and the lady with him was his mother. She was 60 plus, and had pioneered the milk delivery work that this Mother-Son duo were engaged in.
I proposed to Ajay we can help him get a new bicycle, provided he is willing to contribute partly towards it. He told me he will think about our offer. I gave him my number and sped away.
After about three or four months, Ajay called me and informed me he has saved enough money to contribute nearly half the cost of a new bike and wanted to meet me. I welcomed him. A man not seeking freebies, I liked that.
Ajay has been working as a milk delivery boy ever since his teens. His mother had begun this profession even before he was nine or ten, and he has been helping her since. Their father worked in the great Indian Railways. A job considered secure and coveted by millions. A mode of transport for millions, taking people closer to their dreams, to their destinations, to their near but far ones.
Speaking of the railways, and trains, what I miss most from my childhood are the journeys in trains led by steam locomotives, the sound of the whistle, looking out of open grilled windows at the tracks running alongside and their never meeting like jinxed lovers, my mother carrying water flasks, filling them at stations en route, having tea from clay pots, the station master in white holding red or green flags, the coolies who could carry easily an elephant on their head and a hippo on their shoulder.
The only thing I would not miss is the toilet with a gaping hole in the floor, through which air gushed out of, and I always feared my leg would get stuck in the ‘shitty’ hole! 😉 As a kid, I could not hold the side bars, provided in the toilets, while standing or sitting and peeing into that hole, and sometimes I peed on my shoes or legs, and then I would feel embarrassed to go back to our first class compartment with wet trousers or feet! Hahahahahaha! I don’t miss that too!
My favorite train-song is written by my dad, from the film Dost, “Gaadi bula rahi hai, seeti bajaa rahi hai; chalna hi zindagi hai, chalti hi ja rahi hai.”
There is another thing about these beautiful trains. Sometimes you miss one. Or you happen to get into one that does not stop at your station. Ajay missed one too. Or, maybe the train that he hoped will take him to his promised land just did not halt at his station,
Ajay, though a milk delivery boy since his teens, had a dream. A childhood dream to join the Indian Railways and have a secure job, like his father. When he grew older, his father did make an application for his son to join the railways. I think Ajay had said that the children of employees can get employed under some quota, so he was hopeful he will land the job.
The job application was made, but the matter never progressed beyond his interview. Ajay feels, for some reason unknown to him, his father either did not ‘push’ hard enough, or did not grease the palms nor the egos of the Babus (government officers) in the Babu-dom of Indian Railways.
The forwards hands of the relentlessly marching clock continued to run ahead and time quickly went by…. One day, Ajay’s father died. Before Ajay could secure the railway job he had always dreamed of. After his father’s death, Ajay did try to put life back in his job application, however, nothing came of it.
All clouds give shelter, but all do not bring rain. Ajay’s dream of holding a secure job with the railways dispersed like clouds pregnant with the hope of rain but who do not deliver their waters to us. Ajay feels, that the only one rope he had been holding to pull himself out of the deep well of a low income existence, slipped through his fingers with the death of his father. His dream floated away, along with the smoke from his father’s pyre floating out of the chimney of the crematorium.
All dreams do not die. Some remain alive. Ajay had a mother and younger brother to support, along with his own wife and child, and he looked ahead and continued delivering milk along with his mother. I felt happy, that we were able to help a family like this in our own tiny way. Especially a lady so old, as she was 60 plus, and one who had always been independent and still is, even though her husband had a secured railway job.
Thereafter, another hard knock this Mother-Son duo survived is the death of Ajay’s younger brother. He died due to cancer, but could have survived had his cancer been diagnosed earlier, and had the hospital admitted his brother much earlier for chemotherapy, Ajay believes.
The hospital kept delaying his admittance under some reason or another, and Ajay and his mother did not have the resources to take a second opinion, and eventually it was too late to save his brother. His brother’s medical expenses forced them to take loans.
Thankfully, many people who they deliver milk to helped them with funds, and some of them refused to accept repayment after his brother died. Mumbai has a large heart, ya. 🙂 Ajay is grateful, that some people did not accept repayment of his loan, because they are still in debt from that event, and are still paying off the interest on the loans taken from private money lenders.
Our tiny assistance of helping them by buying them a new mode of transport may not seem a great help to them, but it will matter in the long run. Because with an additional bicycle Ajay can increase his routes and customers by hiring a helper to deliver milk to more customers.
All is not lost for this Mother-Son duo. I know, because the high energy with which I see them work at the milk crates in the morning, the pace with which he rides his old bicycle laden with milk packets, and the kind of energy he displays working from 4 am to nearly 7 pm almost daily, they all shout out to me – “Hey, my dream died, ya. But you know what, I saw a new one.”
That is what keeps us going. Dreaming new dreams. When any earlier one dissipates on us waking up. When our bicycle gets punctured on a ride. When our tongue gets burnt sipping hot tea. We do not stop waking up! We do not stop riding! We do not stop having hot tea!
“If you want to hold the Stars my friend,
Then wish and hope and dream.
For Dreams do come true my friend,
They will, at least for me.
The song of Life is now playing for me,
Sweet music, sounds and sights.
I hold life in my arms, I live in paradise,
Because I will care to Dream that life.
So Dream my dear friends. And cast your dream,
Wish the life you want to live.
I was a Dreamer always,
My Dreams will work for me.”
I wrote this poem, sometime post my college years. I cannot say my dreams have come true, yet I continue to dream through the troughs and crests my boat travels through. I think we need to continue to dream, continue to even sleep walk, if necessary. As long we can keep our dream in our horizon our ship will not be lost at sea.
Thank you Vivek Mushran, for purchasing this new bicycle for Ajay and his Mother. (Ajay willingly contributed partly towards the purchase of this bicycle.)
And thank you to Kohinoor Cycles (http://kohinoorcyclestores.blogspot.com/) Siddharth Vora (https//www.facebook.com/siddharth.vora.58?fref=ts) for the good discount and service.
-(PS – Rs 3000 is what it takes to donate a new bicycle; yes, because the balance, 2000 to 2500, is contributed by the recipient. 🙂 )