Mumbai: At 9 pm on Thursday, an elderly lady was suspiciously lurking around a road bend on Hill Road in Bandra. Strangely, none of the shopkeepers nearby seemed to find the incident odd. Sunday MiDDAY spotted her watching out for expensive-looking cars to take a turn. As soon as one did, she'd fall right in front of it, feign injury and demand monetary compensation from the driver.
The Thursday episode seemed straight out of a Bollywood flick -- a con woman having devised an easy means to make a quick buck. But, on speaking with her, a different story emerged. She spoke in fluent English and introduced herself as 65 year-old Yasmin Mistry, a resident of Parsi Colony in Tardeo. She explained that her family was once affluent, but a financial crisis had befallen her, forcing her to enact the daily drama.
She claimed to have studied in a well-known Parsi-run school, and had never had to work after she was married. But four years ago, her husband, who worked in a hotel, died and she ran out of her savings. "For the last six months, I have been coming here (Bandra) every night. I end up making around Rs 200 a day, which is enough to take care of my food and basic necessities."
Shopkeepers nearby say she is a regular in the area. According to them, she enacts the scene five times a week, 9 pm onwards. Ayaz Mohammed, proprietor of Ayaz Kebab Corner, who witnessed the Thursday episode with this reporter said, "I have seen her falling in front of cars on several occasions. But I have never interfered, keeping her age in mind."
According to Mistry, she'd rather con people than beg for money. "With my family background and education, it is humiliating to beg. I'd rather throw myself in front of a moving car to feed myself. I have no other choice in this city where stray dogs have a better chance of surviving than a destitute person."
When contacted, Praveen Jahangir who runs Illavia Trust, said efforts would be made to rehabilitate Mistry now that the case had been brought to their notice. "It requires urgent response. There are numerous Parsi trusts like ours in the city. I am sure they'd be eager to help. We will first trace her and evaluate her financial and mental situation, before providing aid. If need be, she can also be accommodated in a home for the aged," Jahangir stated.
According to Dinshaw Mehta, president, Bombay Parsi Panchayat, the trust will try to locate Mistry and take it upon itself to assist her. "Now that you have brought this to our notice, we try to help her out. We will offer her free accommodation at our dharamshala, or if she wishes, provide her with a monthly stipend of Rs 3,000."