41st recipient of livelihood bicycle: ‘…. I travel around 6 kms daily, just to fetch water for our daily household needs.’
Dharmendra Saroj. (30)
Profession - Mason.
The moment he mentioned his name to me, I told him it’s a great name and asked him if he knows Hema Malini; he shyly nodded his head sideways. The thing that struck me about him was he was very short and skinny. When I saw him first, he was eating bhel, (I eat Bhel too), seated on the pavement, and for some reason I felt the huge gap between us.
Dharmendra is from Benaras, UP. Educated up to the 6th std, he arrived in Mumbai in 2006. There is no one in his family other than him, him being the eldest, who could work when his father retired, so he had to leave school and his village and come to Mumbai to seek a livelihood. His parents are old, and he said his married younger brother does not work because his rich in-laws have told him he need not work for a living as they can feed him for life.
Dharmendra said that with such regret, such sadness, such hopelessness, his shoulders slumping down at that moment. I too thought that his brother’s in-laws by assuring him (his brother) of meals and a lifestyle for life, with probably nothing in return, except probably a subliminal/discreet demand that he look after their daughter and their grand-kids, will ruin his life!; because a man or woman must be financially independent for their survival instincts and self esteem to remain kickin n alive. Furthermore, I thought that as an elder brother who left school to earn his family a livelihood, Dharmendra’s dreams for his younger brother must have crashed!, even if his brother had none and is happy in the comfortable situation he may be in; is my perspective to his sadness to his brother’s situation.
Dharmendra works as a mason. He often goes to buy building material supplies, so he needs a bicycle that can help him transport the supplies to site now and then. He is married and has two children, a boy (6) and a girl (4), both kids study in school. His wife does not work, because, in his words, ‘in our culture we do not allow our women to earn a livelihood.’ His family lives with him at Nalasopara. He earns around 250 to 300 a day. He likes the daily-wages kind of job, because a daily-wages worker gets paid on time, daily. He had a bicycle before, but one day his brother took it to Virar and it was stolen.
I asked him about his most challenging period ever; he replied ‘I am currently facing a very difficult time. I have just returned spending two months in my village doing farming and I have yet to pay the rent for my house which is due for four months. Every year for two months I need to return to my village twice, for the farming we do on land that belongs to others. We farm on land that does not belong to us, so we get to keep only 50 percent of the produce. The land is not ours, but it is we who sow the land and we who cut the ripe crop, and give 50 percent of the produce to the land owner as a fee to farm on his land. So to do the sowing and cutting I have to go to my village for two months every year twice, once to sow and later to cut the yield. My mother supervises the farm in my absence.’
I asked him how will he benefit from the used bicycle we donating to him; his reply, ‘Everyday, I have to request someone for a bicycle when I need one to water or carry supplies. If I have one of my own, I will not have to ask anyone for the favor. When I often borrow Chaurasia Bhelwala’s bike to do my work, I also run his errands just to return his favor of lending me his bicycle. We need to daily travel 6 kms just to fetch the water we need for our daily use. I carry the water on a bicycle, 6 kms daily. (I thought then, ‘SIX kms!!! And for me, portable water can pour endlessly like a waterfall from nearly a dozen or more taps in my house, day and night’!!!) Now, with this bike, I can simply take my own bike to fetch the water or fetch building supplies. I do not need to ask anyone for help, I will be independent. I believe that a cycle is everything; there is no vehicle in this world like the bicycle! Just pick it up and ride away whenever you want or need to, and you do not need anything but yourself to ride one. Thank you to the two people who have gifted me this cycle.’
Thank you to Farzana Suri and Yogesh Shetty for purchasing this bicycle for Dharmendra.