“I got Rs.200 at the dargah today,” says Mohammed Allah Pichai, as a town bus swerves dangerously past him. He is seated at the edge of a footpath off Avanashi Road, two worn out bags beside him. “People who come to pray, offer money.” Inside one cloth bag is a Tamil newspaper and a lungi; the 80-year-old reads the newspaper every day.
“It’s been 15 years since I walked out of my son’s house in Madurai. They don’t know where I am now.” Mohammed’s story is similar to that of many abandoned senior citizens - unable to take the treatment meted out to him by his children, he decided to leave home.
A paper poster is Mohammed’s bed sheet, on which he sleeps at the bus stand.
He travels to places nearby, stops at dargahs for money and eats what is offered there. All was well with Mohammed’s life until his father, a government examiner, passed away. “I was in Standard IX then. I could not study further and joined work in a textile mill.” Mohammed worked hard to raise his two sons.
“It’s all an utter waste. They don’t care about me. No one does.” Many senior citizens who live on the pavement, especially outside the Government Hospital or the railway station, have similar tales to narrate. Sixty-year-old Ganesan left his hometown of Gudalur two weeks ago for treatment at the Government Hospital. Too weak to go back, he now lies at the bus stop adjoining the hospital. But no one has come for him.
“They don’t want me there,” he says, too weak to say anything more. Another elderly man sitting on the pavement outside GH refuses to speak. “He’s been here for the past 20 days,” explains a street vendor. “We don’t know where he’s from. He begs at the bus stop and sleeps here at night.”
Then there are those like Rajaji and Rajammal. Though their children have not physically abandoned them, they feel they have been let down by them. Rajammal sells blouse bits she gets from wholesale dealers. She walks all day, despite her age and deteriorating health.
“Edho saapadu poduran” (he feeds me something) she says, speaking of her son. Her voice softens when she talks of her work. “It is difficult. But I feel good when I give him money. I feel respected.” But Rajaji cannot work since he has asthma. He smiles sadly when I ask him how his children treat him. “My only indulgence is tea. He wouldn’t even give me money to have a cup.”
Vijaya, a railway police constable, recalls how an elderly lady was once found walking about the junction with a lost expression. “Taxi and auto drivers pitched in money and got her something to eat. “They then bought her a ticket to her hometown, called up her son and warned him that if he didn’t receive her at the station, police action will be taken. She was eventually taken back home.” Late at night, senior citizens who beg all day, come to rest on the pavement in front of the railway station, adds Vijaya. “It’s always the same thing. Children who’ve stopped caring, unkind daughters-in-law…”