134th recipient of help (livelihood bicycle) :
The father of a daughter is but a high-caliber and high-class perpetual hostage. A father may turn a stony face to his sons, but when his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, “Daddy, I need to ask you something” or “Papa I need your help” ….”
Aslam Khan (35)
Pau (bread) and Milk seller.
Aslam is from UP. His father passed away when he was around one year young. His mother, and his three elder sisters, mothered and fathered and mothered him.
After his father’s demise, his mother and his four sisters, all four elder to him, took the reins of their family’s livelihood in their nimble hands. Literally. You need nimble fingers to roll beedis. They made them for a local manufacturer of the indigenous cigarette.
A beedi is a thin ‘cigarette’ filled with tobacco flake and wrapped in a tendu leaf, tied with a string at one end. The name is derived from the Marwari word ‘beeda’ — a leaf wrapped in betel nuts, herbs, and condiments. When I began working in films, in 1999, I found out that actor Jackie Shroff loved to smoke beedis. I was fascinated. Until then I had never seen anyone other than the lower income status people smoking beedis.
Aslam has never been to school, because the income from even his four sisters and mother rolling beedis could not sustain his school education. He was the youngest, with two elder brothers.
Aslam said … My mother has worked very hard bringing us up. She has borne a lot of difficulties and hardships for all of us. Now she lives with me. I take care of her. …. A maulana (Muslim priest) had told him once, “… in their service, is God. The heaven you seek, lies on Earth in their service. There is no other heaven any place else.”
Aslam has two daughters and for some unknown reason both get sick on and off right from their childhood. One is a less than a year or two young, and the other is around five or six years old, I think.
The evening I first met Aslam on the street riding with his goods, I think he had a little fever. And in spite of being a young man, he was not riding at a speed someone as young as him usually does. His bicycle was in a very bad shape. Later, when he came over to meet me for his interview, I found out that he has had fever since a few days but has not been taking any medicine.
On being probed by me Aslam replied “I earn or save around Rs 200 a day. If I spend Rs 100 on medicines for myself, what will I send home for my family? My daughters are perpetually unwell, and my savings have got drained treating them since years.”
Then he admitted, that a day ago one of his clients’ forced him to take medicine and even purchased it for him. He showed me the medicines gifted to him by his client.
I made Aslam understand, that if he does not take medicines when necessary he could fall more ill, and may be unable to earn even the Rs 200 a day he mentioned. He needs to take medicines in time to stay well for his family. After all, his two daughters and wife and his mother, all of them are dependent on him alone. And he seemed so stressed about his two daughters, so he needs to stay well for them.
He nodded in silence. But I wasn’t sure if he agreed.
I asked Aslam, considering he is worried or stressed about his two daughters continued ill health, he must be really missing them living so far from them?
Aslam remained silent and looked down. I felt at unease suddenly. He told me, without looking up at me, hiding his eyes from me, “Woh dono mujhe kehate hain ki ‘Abba chutti le kar humme milne aao.’ … (When I call them to speak with them they always tell me to take leave from work and come back home to see them.)
I asked Aslam, when was the last time he went to his village? When was the last time he saw his family, his daughters? Because, I know from meeting many of them that they go to their village once a year for about two months.
This is when Aslam’s looked away. Then continued, “I have not seen my daughters since nearly two years. I am not able to save enough to go home.”
This is where I wanted to end his interview.
I recollect, my father too had to stay away from his family, my mother and my elder sister, for nearly 5 years when he was struggling for a break in Bombay in films. He left his army job to come to Bombay and sent my mother and elder sister to Lucknow to her parents’ house and there was a time he could not afford to go see them for three years.
Aslams’ family’s plight of missing him reminded me of one of my most favorite and beautiful songs written by my father, of a lower middle class family missing their father who has gone to a faraway land to earn his livelihood: “Saath Samunder Paar Se … Pappa Jaldi Aa Jaana: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqByT7BeAbE
Maybe because he himself had faced similar circumstances in his own life, my father could write this song so well from the ink of his own soul.
Returning to Aslam, with his dignity intact, he asked me to help him in some other way. He said, “If possible, rather than giving me a new bicycle give me a job. A proper job.”
I was honest. I told him I have no work to offer him. However, if he wants us to repair his old bicycle we can do that for him, along with buying him a new one. So that he can own two good bicycles and employ someone to do what he is already doing, and share the income appropriately. With one more bicycle ferrying goods his income will improve.
Aslam said he will think about our offer. He will try to find a hardworking and trustworthy person to join hands with him.
My friend Siddhi Sanghvi, she happened to call me that same day I met Aslam. I mentioned to her that I met a vendor who has not been home to see his daughters for over a year, because he cannot afford the train fare home. She volunteered to buy his two way fare. Accordingly, I gave Aslam her offer.
I happened to meet Aslam a few days ago, on the street riding. He told me he is, finally, going home on the 16th to see his family, this week, for Eid. He asked me if I have an old children’s bicycle to gift his daughter. I do not, I said. But he did not seek the two way train fare we had offered him.
Aslam’s daughters will be happy this Eid. After all, their “Abbu’ listened to them this year. This Eid, just like Aslam, lets close the gap, if any, between us and our loved one. Happy Eid.
Speaking of daddies and daughters, let us end our tale with a random but beautiful quote.
“The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class high-caliber perpetual hostage. He may turn a stony face to his sons, berate them, shake his antlers, paw the ground, snort, runs them off into the underbrush sometimes! But when his daughter will puts her arm over his shoulder and say, ‘Daddy, I need to ask you something,’ or ‘Oh daddy I need your help’, Daddy will become a pat of butter in a very hot frying pan. 😉 :)” – Garrison Keillor.
Thank you to Gajra Kottary, Surabhi Shah and Anupama Chibber for purchasing this bicycle for Aslam Khan.
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. 🙂 )
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