From Manhar, Vaishali
Now works as a caretaker at a public toilet in Mumbai
“Back in my village, no Rajput would do this job,” says Amod Kumar Singh, 48, caretaker of a Sulabh Shauchalaya at Nariman Point, South Mumbai.
Around noon, as he sits on the floor eating his dal chawal in his room adjoining the public toilet, he says Mumbai took him in without asking him too many questions and he has now “lived half my life here”.
As caretaker, his day starts early, around 5 am, and ends only at midnight. “I am usually woken up by knocks on my door, asking for the toilet to be opened. I then sit at the cash counter till lunchtime. After resting for a couple of hours, I am again at the counter, till midnight,” he says.
Often, people insist on using the toilet at odd hours “par mana kaise kar sakta hoon (how can I turn them away)”, he says. At times, Singh has to clean the toilets himself. “When the cleaner is absent, I have to do the job. If I don’t, the toilets get clogged,” says Singh. “My wife hates my job but I have to work for my children. If I had done this job in my village in Vaishali, we would have faced social boycott for sure.”
He didn’t go home to his village in Manhar block for the elections. For one, he is just recovering from a bout of malaria. Besides, politics doesn’t interest him as much as it used to. “Anyway, the job doesn’t pay me enough to go home just to vote,” he says.
But even with his diminishing interest in politics, Singh warms up to the discussion on politics. “Nitish Kumar ne Lalu ke sath haath milakar galti ki (he made a mistake by going with Lalu). Lalu’s record and image will end up being a factor for the average Bihari,” he says.
And some poll math. “The voting percentage was around 48 or 50 per cent. Of the 50 per cent that is missing, a big number is of people like me who live away from Bihar for work,” says 48-year-old.
Sitting cross-legged beside Singh is his son Amit. The 20-year-old came from Patna after hearing of his father’s illness, arriving a day ago. He is excited about the elections and displays his inked finger. “I had gone for Modi’s Hajipur rally. He spoke of three mantras — padhayi, kamayi aur dawayi (education, income and healthcare). The atmosphere was amazing,” says the second-year BA student.
Singh says he vividly remembers the day he left his Kutupur village on May 7, 1991, and reached Mumbai. When he reached here, he says, he only knew that he had to make it big — “bada banna tha”. “I had joined Sulabh in Vaishali and soon after, they transferred people to other centres and I moved to Mumbai.”
Singh hopes to leave his caretaker’s job and head home the day one of his three children gets a job. “Until then, I will keep working here. Once I move back to Vaishali, I will work in my fields and buy a few cows and save at least Rs 10,000 a month for my daughter’s wedding,” he says. Anjali, his daughter, is in Class X and his son Sumit, 19, is a first-year BA student.
Singh says he makes sure his entire salary of Rs 4,500 is wired to his family in Vaishali. “I do not spend a single paisa in Mumbai. I am glad that the company pays extra for food. Anyway, my expenses are limited as I only eat twice a day,” says Singh.
Mumbai, where he learnt his “kaam chalau” Marathi, has been good to him. “Here, everyone is the same. I see a lot of faces every day. People from all backgrounds and all religions use the toilet everyday — Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs… That’s the best thing about this city. How can anyone discriminate in a place like Mumbai and especially at a public toilet,” says Singh.