At first sight he was almost invisible, curled into a spot between the black painted railings that fronted the tomb and the trunk of a low hanging Ashoka tree. Most mornings he was to be found here, wrapped in a long black anorak, knees pulled to his chest as he looked into the distance. There was something captivating about him: an unmistakable sense of dignity, yet a sadness too.
Society today is destroyed. They say it’s “developed”, but we don’t care about each other. A lot of people see me and probably think: “He’s just a footpath man, or a beggar, why should I talk to him?” But society has it wrong.
We need more insaniyat, more humanship — “humanity”, as you say.
Insaniyat means curiosity, awareness, developing the capacity to help. It means respecting your neighbours and surroundings. It means asking yourself: “Who is this or that person? Are they ok?”
If our politicians sat down and worked together, if they thought together, they would build more humanity and brotherhood. It would be for the general good of human progress. But they don’t do that. Most people see it as a waste of time.
Now between 75 and 80 years old, Saeed is without home or income. Each morning, around 7am, he makes his way from the night shelter at which he sleeps to the red-stone, tree-lined tomb that stands across the road, “to take the air”.
“It’s too noisy for me there with all the prayers going on”, he says. “Here, I can take in the beauty, the surroundings”.
He sits at the tomb’s edge in most weathers, waiting for the library close by to open, where he goes to read the newspaper and various books.
I’m a man of knowledge, he explained emphatically, as we sat down to speak one morning in the pale light of early spring. I’ve studied the lives of all of the prophets — Christ, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha — and about all of our religions. I can speak four different languages: Farsee, Hindi, Urdu, English. Do you know about DNA and cloning? I can tell you all about it. A man has many DNAs within him!
Where did you learn all of this? I asked.
I taught myself, mostly. I was at school until I was 12 years old, but then I left home. My father was a selfish man and didn’t care about his son at all. Once I left, I would work for money in the daytime, and then study by the light of a pole until 3 o’clock every morning. I studied physics, biology, literature, novels… many things. By myself.
Saeed was born in the city of Kanpur, in a place called Begum Ganj. Since leaving home, his life has been split between Bombay and Delhi – where he has worked a whole host of professions. He’s been “a mechanic, a spray painter, a painter, a technician, a carpenter, a polisher” but most of all, he says, he is a lover of books.
At one point, he exclaimed proudly, eyes gleaming, I even had a 400-book library cum bookshop in Bombay, filled with books on the different world religions, the lives of the prophets, and many other things! But ten years ago, as my faculties started to diminish, I was forced to embrace poverty. I had to donate all of my books, because there was no one to help me.
I’ve seen a lot of poverty in my life, many ups and downs. I have felt sadness from top to bottom. But you tell me, is there anything lacking in my poverty? Is there anything missing, anything less?