By Shaik Zakeer Hussain, TwoCircles.net,
Bengaluru: Abdul Hamid, 78, was a painter by profession. He did painting until recently. That was till the paint brush didn’t slip from his weak hands, decolouring whatever little glow was left in his life. With the responsibility of providing for his family still on his shoulders, he toiled on, taking up odd jobs for a meager pay.
Eight months ago, tragedy struck. While on their way, to visit Hamid in Bangalore, his wife, and two daughters were crushed to death, when the vehicle they were traveling in collided with a truck.
Hamid, who came to Bangalore in search of a livelihood decades ago from his native Vellore in Tamil Nadu, suddenly found himself abandoned to the cruelty of the streets and malevolence of the society.
Abdul Wajid, 70, hails from the city of Lucknow. He says, he does not know what happened to his family, but he recollects most of his poems, penned under the name ‘Badal’. The only possession he has, except for a pair of tattered clothes, is a suitcase full of books.
He says he had a library once. But when he couldn’t pay the rent of the house he occupied, the house owner removed the corrugated metal cover from his roof as a punitive measure. “That day, it rained heavily,” says Wajid.
Needless to add, most of his books were damaged. Only a handful of them were saved, one of them being a copy of the Holy Qur’an, handwritten painstakingly by Wajid himself. He showed the copy to me. Whether or not one knows the styles of Arabic calligraphy, flipping through the pages, one can feel his pain, in every letter and in its every damma and pesh.
Ashiana, an old age home, run by city-based businessman Mohammed Farook, currently has 17 such homeless old timers. Most of them abandoned by their families. Everyone, who comes here, has stories of poverty, loneliness, neglect, ailments, physical and verbal abuse.
Farook said, the idea to start Ashiana, occurred to him when a relative of his, informed about the plight of an old family friend, who was thrown out of his house by his children. “The man was from a very respectable family, the thought of him being abandoned and left on the streets was very distressing for me.”
He says he tried to lodge him at various shelter homes, but could not find a suitable accommodation. “They were either filled to capacity or the condition was so worse that living on the street was a better option.”
That’s when Farook, whose family once ran the illustrious Urdu newspaper, ‘Daily Sultan’, decided to build a roof for abandoned senior citizens, which could take care of their basic needs, in their last times.
Ashiana was started four years ago, with only one inmate and a small room on his own property, but Farook says, he soon started getting requests to lodge more and more people. “I have received around 500 queries till date, but we dont have the capability to accommodate such a huge number.”
To expand the work, Farook invited some of his friends to join hands for support, and soon the members of Al Aman Educational and Welfare Trust, which he is a founding member of, and which has been active in improving the quality of education in government Urdu schools since 1996, came on board.
A four-bed home, with two full-time caretakers, and a cook, Ashiana is a composite shelter. Apart from this, the home also has a prayer hall, with a full-time Imam, access to a doctor, apart from regular health check-ups.
Farook says, there are many old timers who are neglected by their children and other members of the family. With no relatives to take care of them in their old age and sickness, a place like Ashiana comes as a rescue centre where they can spend the rest of their life in peace, comfort with dignity.
As for the rules are concerned, admission is open to any senior citizen irrespective of religion, who is neglected and abandoned by their kith and kin. However, due to restrictions of capacity and financial constraints, the place can only accommodate up to 35 people.
“We want to add additional floors, and improve the infrastructure, but that would mean additional cost, which we currently can’t raise,” says Farook.
“Our community spends crores of rupees on building extravagant mosques, with expensive carpets and chandeliers, but when we talk about initiatives such as ours, they are just not interested,” he complaints. In fact, Ashiana is only old age home, run by the community in the city.
Being old, most of these inmates suffer from numerous ailments. Some are diabetic, some have hypertension, arthritis, joint pains and psoriasis. “We also have to pay the salary of the staff, apart from, of course providing food for everyone at the shelter,” says Farook.
He says, although the cost of running such a place is expensive and with no external support, it also becomes a very hectic process, however, the fact that he and other members of his old age home, can provide a roof and care for those without it, is a satisfying and fulfilling endeavour, which is worth all the hard work behind it.
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Ashiana phone number: +919740125500
(Photos: Mansoor Chetlu)