Peethambaram: One of India’s Unclaimed
In the year of the Indo-Pakistan war 1965, Peethambar enrolled himself in Cochin in the army as a signalman. “I trained in Goa; I was posted in Sikkim in Nathula on the China border; I served with the Western Command Signals, and was serving in Jalandhar during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war ……… they were good days,” he reminisces.
In stark contrast to 2019 when he stands at the age of 74 under an arch in the A-block of Connaught Place with a placard requesting passers-by to donate him money – “just to survive day to day,” he says with a wan smile.
1971 was also the year his mother died. But his discharge application remained pending because those were turbulent days. “I was finally sanctioned leave in 1975 and I returned home.” It took him some time to sort his mother’s things out, but his family owned no property, he did not share close family ties with his relatives, and it made more sense for him to return north.
“I met my signal commander, but he said I was not eligible for any kind of pension; rules are rules, what could I say!”
Speaking decent English & Hindi, he drifted through different small-time jobs with travel agencies and hotels. “I didn’t get married, have no family so I am like a laawaris (unclaimed),” he says. This hit him really hard when he took a tumble from a double-storey building, injuring his right leg severely.
“All my savings were swallowed up really quickly, and still unable to work, I was forced to take to the streets asking strangers for help,” he explains.
“Some people are very kind,” he adds, “I have been allowed to spend nights in this shack,” which is a low, temporary dwelling perched on a roof of a building tucked inside the squalid underbelly of Delhi’s bustling Connaught Place market.
“That’s fate, isn’t it?” he asks, “So many people suffering; I just thank anyone who helps me.”