Express News Service
MYSURU: A year ago, Siddaraju was seeking alms on the streets of Mysuru, helpless and alone. The differently-abled man now flies through the same streets on his scooter, rushing sackloads of onions to be sold on the city’s outskirts.
While the pandemic has changed lives, even bringing people to their knees, it has helped Siddaraju stand on his feet. Behind this positive transformation lies a tragic tale and the determination to take care of his 13-year-old son.
Siddaraju, a native of Belagola on the outskirts of Mysuru city, was a busy mason until disaster struck in the form of a life-threatening nerve disorder that left him disabled. “I was paralysed neck downwards from 2017, and after treatment at Nimhans, Bengaluru, I was bedridden. That is when my wife left me and my son, who was just 10. I struggled to move, and we had no means or help to get even a square meal a day,” he said.
It was as if Siddaraju had reached the nadir. Recounting his plight, Siddaraju said there were days when he had only his son for help, and had to sleep in his own faeces for weeks. They had nothing to eat for days.
His wife’s departure and the struggle that followed ignited the urge to get back on his feet, and he sought the help of his former contractor, Raju, from nearby Jettihundi, with whom he used to work.
“He enrolled me in a church that was running a physiotherapy centre for the poor, and there I learnt exercises and my condition slowly improved. I returned home and started exercising regularly, and finally, I was able to move around with assistance. My legs were still frozen, I was unable to do any work, so I took to begging,” Siddaraju said. He knew this was the only way he could feed his child and aged mother.
But life had another hand to deal: the pandemic and resultant lockdown. His meagre income dried up, and things slid downward again. “For three months, we had no money, as I couldn’t seek alms. It was a terrible situation,” he said.
Even the pandemic couldn’t hold down Siddaraju, though. He was determined to earn a living. Help again came from the same quarters: Raju and his sister helped him get a scooter, modified for the differently-abled, from the Zilla Panchayat, under a scheme for the disabled.
Starting off on his scooter, Siddaraju got busy, ferrying vegetables from the APMC Market in Mysuru to the outskirts and surrounding villages. “I first started with the resale of leafy vegetables which were cheaper, but the earnings were less.” So he opted for the more profitable onion, and once again, Raju helped him with the first investment to buy onions.
Though still partially paralysed, he loads heavy sacks on to the scooter, and with some help, hoists himself on to the seat. “With restrictions in the city again, there is much demand for vegetables in shops on the outskirts,” he said, adding that one trip fetches him Rs 500 – 600.
Siddaraju’s only wish is to give his son, now in Class 6 at the Belagola Government School, a good education.
“Since classes are online, I saved some money and finally bought him a mobile. It was the biggest purchase I made, after maybe four years,“ said Siddaraju. All he wants is for his son to get a “salaried job”. And for that, he is willing to surmount any odds.