Sunday, June 20, 2010


Hell on Earth is a place called Bagdob village, at Puranganj in Purnia district of Bihar. There’s no electricity, no piped drinking-water, no roads, no drainage, no law, no hospitals, no schools, no shops, no doctor - not even a movie theatre or a market-place. The nearest town/market is Purnia, 35-minutes by bus, AFTER a 30-minutes walk to the nearest bus-stand. The village gets flooded & remains cut off by 6-7 feet depth of water for 3-months every year, by a loop of the mighty Mahananda river. Populated by about 15000 miserable wretches who were a fraction of Bangladeshi refugees who came over to India in 1970-71, this was a village forgotten by time. It was so worthless that even the crime & politics of Bihar in early 1990s didn’t find them useful.

But the sheer the instincts to survive & the need to avoid the local Hindus, made them choose village Bagdob, a place passed over by civilization. Cultivating Jute became the village economy supplemented by a few seasonal crops of Watermelons, Mangoes & Chilies. Among them, was a man called Sheikh Najeeb who was brought up in an aristocratic Muslim family in erstwhile East Pakistan. He inherited a cultured manner, refined speech, a life spent in leisure and …. the grandiose evil of gambling. He had been respectably employed for a few years in his prime, but after he lost his beautiful wife & 3 daughters to an epidemic of Cholera, he returned to gambling fulltime and gradually lost all his land, property & family fortunes. As misfortune would have it, yet another wretch, Shaukat Ali, had a beautiful, elegant but uneducated daughter ….. named Zohra Bano. The hard times they faced since Indo-Pak partition, that too as refugees in India, made even a Sheikh Najeeb appear to be a worthy husband for her – they were married in an in humble Nikaah ceremony.

Life could have still been salvaged, but the habit of gambling away all that he earned while gradually producing 10 children in 9 years pushed this family to utter destitution. Beyond a point even kind neighbors & the few relatives/cousins stopped feeding the 10 hungry kids who ran around in tattered clothes, aimless & bare feet.

But now in 1995, at the age of 55, Sheikh Najeeb was too old to find any work though at least he had stopped gambling. Mohd. Khursheed Alam was the 2nd eldest child in the family. The local village headmaster had 2 sons – Jamsher Ali, a civil servant with MTNL, Calcutta & a younger son Rahman doing his Ph.D. at JNU, New Delhi. It had been decided that Rahman would take Khursheed to work as a domestic help in the house of some rich man in Delhi. But by the time Khursheed actually reached Delhi, the situation was no more vacant. Rahman was stuck with Khursheed sharing his room in the JNU Hostel.

Meanwhile, Ranjan & Malvika were both working long hours as doctors in South Delhi. In the early 90s, Delhi life was a struggle with runaway inflation, unreliable utilities & public infra-structure. Life was tough. Ranjan’s mother was living with them, suffering from Diabetes, Hypertension & Heart problems. Everyone called her ‘Daadi’. 'Daadi' needed help at home with the children who were just 6 & 5 yrs old boys, studying in a prestigious convent school in the cantonment. Ranjan got to know Rahman through a mutual friend and when Rahman mentioned the boy, Ranjan thought it was providential.

Thus, Mohd. Khursheed Alam arrived as a servant in the household of Ranjan & Malvika in a posh South-Delhi locality, in August 1995. Knowing local sentiments Ranjan named him Mike! At that time Mike was just 10 yrs old, undernourished, stunted growth, scared and very confused & bewildered by the rapid changes of his circumstances. It was agreed that Ranjan would pay Rs. 500/- per month to Mikes’his parents since they were extremely poor & destitute. By Bagdob standards, it simply meant daily food for all the children!

Mike had to be taught that if you hit a switch, a light would come on. And that it was mandatory to shut off a fawcett after using water. One day he played in the shower for 4 hours when the kids were at school & promptly fell ill with pnuemonia on the 5th day of his arrival. Ranjan took care of him, fed him, washed him , showed him cartoon programs on TV – within 4 days he was back on his feet – by next week he was drinking 6 glasses of milk a day – until there was no milk left for the kids or even for tea/coffee!!

Gradually, he was made to understand the concept of apportioning food, water, time, toilet-time & space. He helped to wash dishes, chop the veggies, baby-sit the kids, run errands and generally helped with the house-keeping. He needed to be taught everything – from personal hygiene to locking doors, from switching off the lights/fan to housework. Sometimes, he seemed to be intelligent & useful and sometimes, a lazy rascal ! Sometimes he would play video-games till late at night & be too sleepy to drop the kids to the school bus-stop next morning. He always wanted to know how everything worked – so he needed to “just look inside” ! As a result, within 6-8 months, the KitchenMate mixer-grinder machine, the refrigerator, the television, the telephone, the LML Vespa scooter, the music system …everything …everything had to be repaired / serviced. But he was a fast learner. He made mistakes aplenty, but never repeated them. Except of course, the family need to order 4-litres of milk instead of the 2-litres which used to be adequate … until Mike came along!

In early 1996 Malvika left for Singapore. Mike helped Daadi to run the house but he needed supervision in everything. When Ranjan got the job-offer in Singapore after 4 months , he applied for Mike’s passport. For that, he actually went to his village in Bihar, swam through flood waters of Mahananda river to reach his village & overnight, brought his parents to meet the Passport Officer in Delhi. Mike’s parents were ecstatic because Ranjan had promised to send the Rs 2000 a month! Mike had already lived with them more than a year and had helped out all the neighbours in many ways on numerous occasions. So on validation by the neighbours, his police verification was completed. After 2 months of going to the Passport Office almost every day Mike was finally given a passport. Six days later, Mike from Bagdob village, who had never even been to any formal school except in part-time local madrasas in his village, flew by Singapore International Airlines to Singapore!

Since Mike was less than 18 yrs old, he could not be given a visa to stay with them as a servant. Ranjan had to put him to school from January 1997 so that he could live with them on a Students’ Visa. He had no concept of what was school, daily time-tables or exams or marks or promotion. According to his age he was supposed to be in Class 6, but on Ranjan’s request, the Principal allowed him to study 6 months in Class 5 & then 6 months in Class 6, at the end of which he had to take a formal Primary School passing exam. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the medium of instruction was either Chinese or Malay language. Ranjan put him through some tuition lessons in Bahasa Malayu. At home, Ranjan could only teach him Maths. Every Sunday, Ranjan & Mike would bash their heads on Maths. Mike refused to exercise his mind. Ranjan refused to give up. Everytime Mike would get slapped, or have his ear tweaked; Ranjan could be heard yelling at him until Malvika rescued them with a lunch call. Mike failed in all the subjects but …. in Maths, he was the only student to score a 100% in the final exams!. Never was a young boy so happy on this planet before!

Meanwhile he helped to look after the kids, cooked food 3-times a day, do the laundry, do weekly shopping & play with boys. He ate what they ate, he saw the movies they saw, played cricket with the local kids --- but -- it was a regular headache to control him. After all, he was only a 12 year-old boy ! He would fall asleep at anytime, sometimes he would cook horribly tasteless food, play video-games for hours, fight with other local boys, forget his daily house-keeping chores, wear the boys’ clothes, eat food on the sly, spoil most of the electrical goods until they were so fed up, they seriously began to think of sending him back to India. Only bright spot was that he was very careful about doing his homework & keeping his books tidy & uniform clean. His grades improved from E to D …even a few Cs but always A+ in Maths.

But then, in early 1998, they moved to a different place, Mike joined a new school and soon, within 3 – 4 months they were amazed to see him change -- in every possible way! Sure, he still needed supervision, correction & guidance all the time … but much less than before. The magnitude of the change was amazing ! The very attitude – was like he didn’t want to be ‘criticized’! He was developing that priceless thing called self-respect & dignity! It was fascinating to watch the change.

He began to cook better; he took over running the household; did his shopping of groceries-n-fresh impeccably; did reasonably good house-keeping and most important of all, he gradually improved his grades until in 1999 he came First in Class ! Then, upon his own request, he was moved to the best-students section in 2000. At the same time he became one of the top 5 athletes in his school. Ranjan was sad that he couldn’t allow him to go for regular sports practice, because he was needed to run the house since both he & his wife were perpetually working a grueling schedule in the hospital.

He also began to do regular work-outs, motivated by Rambo movies and built a fine physique. Bruce Lee, Jean-Claude van Damme were his Gods. But he also loved Bridge on the River Kwai, Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare etc. But the suprising thing was he was addicted to ‘My Fair Lady’. He used to try to imitate Rex Harrison’s style of English delivery. But most of all, he became an exemplary big-brother to the boys.

One day he took Ranjan’s permission to go to the mosque. There, from his friends he formally learnt to practice the Islamic ‘Namaaz’ and would go to the Mosque regularly for his Friday Prayers. That year, 2001, he strictly observed fasting in the month of Ramzan too.

Ranjan never realized when in those 3 years, he began to treat him more like a son than as a servant. Ranjan began to groom him, teach him manners, taught him things that fathers teach their sons; played Badminton, Chess & Scrabble with him, told him stories of history & geography. Harappa & Mohenjodaro on the internet; Star & galaxies in a local planetarium. He taught him Science & Maths. Told him stories about Einstien, Newton, da Vinci & Thomas Edison. The Wright brothers. He taught him the Periodic table in chemistry – that term he topped his class in Chemistry. He taught him how to repair the VCR & the computer CPU too -- and of course, the facts of life. About money, about laws, about trade. They did push-ups together, until the boys joined in too.

One day, in his clinic in the hospital, Ranjan suddenly saw Mike walk in – shirt torn, blood on his vest & some blood on his nose. Ranjan went near …..and Mike broke down in tears. Apparently, some school boys had been harassing him for a long time & Mike didn’t retaliate because Ranjan had told him not to fight! His tearful eyes were so accusatory! Ranjan immediately went to the police-station where he was well known as one of the most devoted Doctors in town. The 4 boys & their parents were called to the police station. Ranjan said he wouldn’t like to file a case of criminal assault on the boys considering they had their future ahead, but he wanted an apology from them & and assurance that this would never happen again. The parents agreed, the boys apologized, the police smiled & they all went home. It was too easy. Next day Ranjan was called to the police station!!! Apparently, this time it was Mike who was the culprit. Ranjan was furious. Investigations revealed, that the very next day, the 4 boys had ganged up on him and Mike single-handedly thrashed them. In the police station, Mike hugged the boys, one-by-one and simply said, ‘I am so sorry’. Ranjan saw him smiling all the while!

April 2000, Ranjan & Malvika’s marriage finally broke down after several years of disharmony. They separated & Malvika moved on to USA. Mike took over running the house completely – house-keeping, budgeting, shopping, paying the bills, teaching the kids and for the initial few months, even indulging Ranjan in his post-separation grief & depression -- in addition to all the routine cooking & laundry & doing-the-dishes. He began paying bills online & he taught Ranjan how to do online-banking! He would study until late at night and in his Class 9 board exams he scored 2 As, 3 Bs and 3 Cs. Everyone who did better than him had taken tuitions for most subjects, and certainly did not have the responsibility of running a household practically without any supervision. Ranjan was proud of him!

But Ranjan also realized, that Mike had set such an example, that his own sons were always trying to match up to him – trying to do what he did, try to be as responsible as he was – and they grew up to be fine kids too. They used to call him ‘Mike-bhaiyya’. He was their hero. They did everything together – Bowling, Archery, Swimming, listening to music, Cycling at midnight … whatever took their fancy. Mike helped them catch & maintain 2 deadly scorpions as pets under their bed. Mike learnt how to do Bar-be-Cue & the 2 boys were his faithful devoted assistants during any party at home. Mike ensured they wore clean undies; he made sure they were never late for school.

Ranjan couldn’t pay attention to Mike in 2001, which was a very bad year for them in every way. Mike was a teenager; he had freedom & he had begun to look handsome; the neighbour’s daughter was pretty; internet gave him access to adult websites; and they had come to a new place again; he fell into bad company – and by the time Ranjan paid attention to him again, his grades in school had deteriorated horrendously. So, Ranjan ‘kicked-his-ass’- bigtime. And yet again, Mike put in a valiant effort and recovered his academic situation. Finally, in O-Levels in 2003, while he was still running the household with impeccable budgeting & varying cuisine, he came up with 3 As & 2 Bs. The same year he became a Black-Belt in Taekwondo. Two weeks later he came 2nd in the District Inter-School Marathon race.

But gradually a restlessness had begun to appear within Mike. He had been with them for almost 9 years. He was a young man now. Domesticity was not his cup of tea anymore. He had learnt much more than he needed to. Sometimes Ranjan found him brooding, thoughtful. Once he even felt Mike was depressed, when he talked about his home, his sisters & even shed some tears when talking about his Mother. Ranjan understood. It was time Mike returned home. And that’s what happened. In October 2003, Mike a.k.a. Mohd. Khursheed Alam, with a personal fortune of Rs 85,000/- that he had saved (in addition to the money sent to his parents for all these years) returned home to Bagdob, to his mother.

Four years later …. Ranjan received a phone call from Mike. They had a long chat. Mike said, he was happiest, the day he could tell his father, that he himself would take care of the family. His father had apparently hugged him & wept … so happy, so proud, so relieved he was. He built his mother 2 rooms of brick-n-cement which didn’t get washed away by the rains & floods that year. Even the food-stores & firewood remained dry in the overhead bunks. Every day, all the younger siblings were going to school 30 kms away. But Mike himself became the best teacher for all the young boys & girls in the village. The local police-chowki-in-charge was his best friend for Mike counseled him more on rehabilitating the wild ones rather than beating them senseless. The richest man in the village wanted Mike to marry his daughter. But Mike refused saying he wouldn’t marry for another 10 years or so, because he had “lots to do”. He was thinking whether to start a village-cooperative with bank loans, or perhaps join the local politics.

As Ranjan put the phone down, he had tears in his eyes, a bursting pride in his chest! And after all, he’s not even my own son! He made a coffee for himself whistling ‘hum hain rahi pyaar ke, humse kuchh na boliye ….”.


  1. Great story Sir !
    Loved reading it...
    Keep them coming !!
    Best Wishes

  2. your story is totally fiction upto the limit, i am a resident of bagdob,,, i know the infrastructure is poor but we are the great host........i think you are a guest there... but you are a very irresponsible,rude man i have ever dont have respect for other,,,, and a person who guided to our village is a great rascall.............

  3. Who wrote this shit ?? at least he could have used some better words of english or may he has this knowledge of english only?