Shibu is a 68 year old man. He is married and has two sons. Originally, he lived in Bihar state with his parents and brother and sister. We met him sitting under an umbrella asking for alms near the imposing Shaheed Minar monument in Kolkata.
He stood out from the other beggers purely on the basis of his serene demeanour. He was always friendly, polite, and willing to chat whenever we visited. Shibu obviously had an interesting story to tell but he was reticent for reasons which only became apparent much later.
He contracted leprosy at the age of 14 years. He was taken from Adyapeath Temple where he begged and taken to a missionary hospital. Fortunately, multidrug therapy stopped the leprosy spreading and he was cured but not before his legs and many of his fingers were amputated.
Despite such difficult beginnings Shibu slowly established a family and his life evolved and eventually prospered. His parents arranged a marriage for him and he had two sons. Shibu’s strength of character and natural intelligence enabled him to support his family based purely on his dedication to seek alms. He invited us to visit him in his official slum home. It was small but well maintained and had a small library which suggested he educated himself and his children. His sons have prospered. One is a tradesman earning a good living and the other is currently studying for his MSc in Economics.
It is a sad reflection of Indian culture that his family want him to remain anonymous and his story untold for fear of limiting their life prospects. Shibu is justly proud of his achievements. Neighbours know his story and I would be proud if he was my father. His story should be told far and wide and held up as a beacon of hope for all disabled street people of Kolkata.