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Phokraj Manji

Pokhraj Manji I prefer foreigners to Indians any day. I think they are a much better people, much more courteous, sensitive to alien cultures that they may not even understand. Otherwise, why should they obey rules that don't even make sense to them?

Like the rule, here at Rajghat, which requires visitors to remove their shoes before they enter inner sanctum where the samadhi is situated. Yet, despite the notices that have been put up all over the place, Indians will still walk in with their footwear on.

Now, look at that group of school children...

(Excuses himself.)

'Uthro, uthro, kya kar rahe hain aap log? (Get down! Get down! What are you people doing?) How can you climb the trees like that? This is not allowed here.'

(Turning towards the accompanying teachers...)

'Is this what you teach your children? How can you let them misbehave like this? And how can you walk into such a sacrosanct place wearing shoes? Haven't you seen the huge notices at every gate? If educated people like you -- who are responsible for guiding the younger generation -- don't follow the rules, what can we expect from anyone else?'

(Returns, and resumes conversation.)

It's such a sorry situation. We have no respect for our own culture, for ourselves. That's why we disrespect our history, our monuments. Look at this place. It is maintained by the government as a form of public service, so that the people have a shady, green expanse where they can relax for a while. And what do they do? They break the rules, they walk in with their shoes on, they litter the place...

Why do we Indians need chaperones all the time? Why don't we learn to obey rules, to follow instructions? Today, corruption has become such a normal part of our lives. There is so much goondagardi; I am disgusted at the way muscle and money power prevail over honesty and dedication. I feel bad when I see the deteriorating condition of the country.

Pokhraj Manji Don't get me wrong. I honestly believe we are better off as a free nation. But what we lack today are good leaders, good role models. India was striding firmly on the path of progress when Nehruji, Shashtriji and Rajiv Gandhi were at the helm. In fact, under Rajivji, we were ranked number two in the whole world. It made me so happy and proud. If fate had left him alone, I am sure we would have become the number one nation in the whole world. It pains me tremendously that he had to die such a futile death.

Even his mother was a good leader. Indiraji always kept the common man in mind. During her time, a board listing the prices of various essential commodities would be displayed outside every shop. People were scared of crossing the law.

Today, we have regressed as a nation. Everyone is doing what they want to. Take the grocer for example -- he will sell things at his price and there is no one to stop him. A common man has to buy things at the same price as the richer class. Besides, a poor wage earner does not get benefits like dearness allowance. As a result, he faces much difficulty.

During the riots, too, it was the poor man who suffered. Riots are a cause of shame to a nation. When Indiraji was assassinated in 1984, much violence took place in Delhi. We faced problems that should not have ever taken place in a country like ours. It was a horrible sight to see people fighting with each other, so many innocent people were killed...

All these problems exist because our present leaders don't put their country before themselves. Also, since they are not as morally upright as the leaders of the past, people feel free to take the wrong path to prosperity! After all, they have a valid excuse -- they are just following the example that has been set by prominent leaders of the country.

Yet, despite everything, I love my country. I always pray for India -- I hope that she will do well. And I hate the fact that external forces interfere in our internal matters in order to weaken our stability. Why should foreign nations interfere with India? Why should they ask our citizens to leave India and join them? Why should they try to take over our territory? This is not the right thing to do. All our problems can be sorted out through friendly methods.

Take Pakistan, for example. Ever since that nation was formed, they have been opposing us in every possible manner. They keep fighting with us for the smallest reasons. I just feel that Pakistan -- or any other nation that borders India -- should make their peace with us so that we can live together in harmony. That would be the best policy. After all, we are the land that gave birth to saintly men like Mahatma Gandhi.

Yet, not too many people remember him today. The prime minister and many other VIPs come here on October 2. They pay their respects and pray for an hour or so. Then. they come again on January 26 and January 30. Anyone who becomes the prime minister comes here once to pay his respects to Gandhiji by putting flowers on the samadhi. Otherwise, it is only an October-January thing.

Pokhraj Manji Because of my job as a watchman at Rajghat, I have seen many VIPs -- both from India and abroad. But their security is so tight, that one does not get a chance to talk with them. I have seen Indiraji, Rajivji, Charan Singh, Jagjivan Ram, Chandra Shekhar, V P Singh... I have seen Rajivji's wife and children. I have seen Sanjay Gandhi. His wife and son come to his samadhi occasionally.

I came to Delhi in 1966. My elder brother and grandfather, who were already here, got me a job at a cycle stand, just outside the gates of Rajghat. I used to earn Rs 40 a month. Then, in 1973, a vacancy arose at Rajghat. I wanted this job so badly that I approached H K L Bhagat. The caretakersaab at Rajghat also recommended me. Luckily, I didn't have to bribe anyone. I got this job in December 4, 1973.

During the course of my duties here, I have caught pickpockets and other miscreants. Most times, though, they go scot-free. Like it happened with this pickpocket I had caught red-handed. But the victim did not want to press charges. He was a tourist and, if he registered a complaint, the police would have confiscated his money as evidence. He would have been stuck, and his holiday would have been ruined, until the court case was over and the money was returned to him. So he requested the police to hush up the case. All this happened before my very eyes.

If a man has been caught committing a crime, he should be punished. But if the victim himself does not want to press charges, what can I do? I have to keep the wishes of the public in mind. Yet, all these disappointments cannot stop me from doing my duty to the best of my ability. Which is not exactly what the present government is doing.

They are totally ignoring the samadhi. The Deve Gowda government did not form a committee for the overall maintenance of Rajghat. Life becomes easier if we have a committee to take the necessary decisions. They keep visiting this place regularly to see that everything is moving smoothly, to see that nothing is amiss and that we have everything that we need. Nowadays, because of a lack of supervision, this place is not being looked after like it should be.

The government is doing some good things -- they are trying to eradicate poverty and the caste system. And, though the reforms do not always percolate to the bottom, at least something is happening. But they must work according to the rules and fulfill their responsibilities. A layman like me cannot advise them; but I strongly feel that every man should have a source of employment, something that will enable him to earn a living and look after his family and his children.

There is one thing that bothers me -- why can't every Indian find a living in his own country? A man leaves his country only because of his majboori -- because he cannot find work that will help him support his family. Otherwise, no person will want to leave his own country to live in a foreign land.

Life for a poor man is a Catch-22 situation. He leaves his home and comes to a city in order to earn a living. Obviously, he would need a place to stay. In a city like Delhi, a roof costs you at least Rs 500 to Rs 1,000. What will a poor man, who earns about Rs 1,000 per month and has two or three children do? How is he supposed to manage?

When I first started working here, I used to earn Rs 250 per month. Today, my salary has increased to Rs 1,900 a month. In the expensive world of today, my salary is nothing. We are a family of seven members -- four of my children are studying and one has to prepared for unexpected expenses like illnesses and new clothes. My job is our only source of income and we make do some how or the other. You have to deprive your stomach, you have to face all kinds of deprivations if you want to bring up a family.

Pokhraj Manji About five years ago, I got my eldest daughter married off to a good boy from my village, Balbhangra. She had finished her ninth standard then, and was about 14 years old which, our village elders said was an ideal age for a girl to get married. She has a son now, my first grandchild.

I was lucky; I did not have to give dowry for her wedding. Her in-laws accepted whatever we could give within our capacity and desire. My daughter's marriage cost us very little money. I did not have to take on the additional burden of a loan.

We did not ask for a dowry during my marriage in 1971 either. As was the custom, I did not see my wife before my wedding, which was fixed according to the wishes of the elders in my village. My in-laws, though, did give some brass vessels, plates, bowls, glasses and kitchen equipment. And they gave me clothes like dhotis and shirts.

After marriage, my wife lived with my mother for several months. It was only after two or three years, when my brother and I built our own house, that I could bring her to Delhi. We were able to do that only because our juggis were broken down. Indiraji was building a new powerhouse in 1970 and she needed that land on which we were living. As compensation, she gave us 22 1/2 gaz land each at Trilokpuri where we could build our new homes. We also got a Rs 21,000 housing loan from the bank.

The main thing I am concerned about is my children's education -- all of them study in public corporation schools. Somehow or the other, I make every adjustment I can to make sure that their education is not interrupted in any manner. I don't know if they are brilliant; but they are regular students who have consistently passed from class to class. I keep telling them that even an educated man finds it impossible to find a job for himself. If they want a decent future, they must concentrate hard on their education and not waste too much time on play. As for the future, I'll leave it in God's hands.

At the moment, I am not able to save a single penny. The only savings I have is the money I've put in the provident fund. And that is because they cut that amount even before they give us the salary. Otherwise, I would not have been able to manage even that.

Pokhraj Manji According to the government's rule, I can work here till I am 60 years old. I am 46 years old now. I have another 14 years of service left. But I have to be careful that I do not commit any kind of mistake. Our kind of job does not have scope for promotion. The only benefit we get is an increase in dearness allowance. But the thing is that inflation also increases, so does not benefit us all that much. There is no other increase in salary.

I have spent most of my life working and now I am near retirement age. I have only two desires remaining -- I would like to complete my service successfully and conduct the marriages of all my children without having to ask anyone for any kind of financial help.

I have lived a long life -- God gave me certain things, I missed out on certain others. But that does not bother me. After all, how much does a man need? Two rotis, a peaceful life, cloth to cover my body. The fact that I get these things on time is enough to make me happy. At times, though, I do feel that I have spent enough time here; its time for me to go back to Him.

As told to Savera R Someshwar. Photographs: Atul Chowdhury