New Delhi: Demonetisation had found its personification last year when the photograph of an old man, breaking down after missing his spot at a bank had gone viral. He had waited in the queue for days to collect his pension.
A year later, the struggles for the man who was once braving bullets in the India-Pakistan war are still the same — hardships intact.
Nand Lal, the ex-army ‘naik’, earns a monthly pension of Rs 8,000. The widower stays alone in a dingy 10x10 feet room and has a help who looks after him. His daughter resides in Faridabad and visits him once in every six months. She sends him Rs 6,000 every month.
“We have been trying to get him to stay with his daughter but he doesn’t listen,” said the woman who cooks and cleans for Lal.
The 79-year old man pays Rs 2,000 as room-rent. Lal’s landlord hasn’t increased the rent in several years now. “It is only here that he gets to stay, if he looks for a house somewhere else, they won’t keep him,” said Lal’s neighbor who has been staying in the adjacent lane for the last 12 years.
Old man cries in Gurgaon after missing his spot in a long queue... and they said only the rich will cry. Photo by @parveenkumar_ht pic.twitter.com/Cn4Hkp3BD7— Anupam Thapa (@anupamthapa) December 14, 2016
Journalists no longer land up outside Lal’s house, asking him questions, clicking his photographs. “I did not ask anybody to click my photograph. Why did someone photograph me without asking me,” he asked. The anger was palpable.
The man is so irritated at the interference of reporters that he does not mind raising his stick and often shouting: “Everything is fine with me. I have no problems. Stop visiting me.”
Towards the far end of the national capital region, past the last metro station in Gurugram is a place named Bhimnagar — that’s where Lal lives. It wasn’t difficult to find his house. “Fauji na? (the man who was in the army, right?)” is all it took to locate his house.
The match-box of a place where the man puts up at is dark, small and lonely. The surroundings are symbolic of the life this ex-armyman leads. Quiet and unflashy. On having enquired about the man, the neighbours seemed sour about the presence of a media personnel.
Lal’s life was not always this isolated.
The ex-army man owned a place in Bhimnagar, Gurugram where he stayed with his wife. The couple did not have a child and adopted a baby girl. “I made her study and she became an engineer,” he said.
The family later sold their house and moved to Faridabad once their daughter got married. Things went downhill ever since.
After Lal’s wife passed away, he did not get along well with his extended family and moved back to Bhimnagar, renting the room that he now stays in. But his army training and infused principles have stuck. He refuses to take any help from relatives and goes to a nearby restaurant for dinner on days his help does not show up.
Circumstances and continuous struggles have made the man not only wary of people around him but life in general. He has ongoing tiffs with his landlord. Lal is also not in good terms with his neighbours.
It was a similar day when he had taken a rickshaw to withdraw money from the nearby bank as he had to pay for his daily chores. “He had to be in queue for three days. He was completely out of cash and I gave him money to take a rickshaw,” said Lal’s neighbour, who is not particularly in good terms with the man but couldn’t see him suffer.
Vehement debates around One Rank One Pension (OROP) have been doing the rounds in the recent past. Lal, however, is not a party to it. Not because he does not need pension, but because he does not own an Aadhaar card. As the Narendra Modi-led government talks about mandating Aadhar for pensions, this man is facing troubles getting an identification proof.
Demonetisation was just another crisis in the life of this 79-year-old. The year following the note-ban has not been any less difficult for Lal, who served the army for two decades. The government claims to have recovered black money and bumped up digital transactions through demonetization—but for Lal, life poses the same trenches it used to last year.