This is the story of Kondiba who is visually challenged.
Kondiba Gaikwad hated begging. But the famine in Maharashtra in 1972-73 had driven him from his home in Aurangabad to Mumbai in search of bread. At first, he had tried selling brooms. Unfortunately, he had little luck selling his goods. He soon learnt that Mumbai is generous to beggars - especially blind beggars. And 25-year-old Kondiba was blind. He had become blind with small pox at the age of eight.
It was a cloudy day in “Golibar”, the large slum colony in Ghatkopar, north-east of Mumbai. Kondiba lived here with Tukaram and Tukaram’s wife, Yelanbai. It was the end of the monsoon. In the middle of an open area, in the colony there was a well. It was full of blackish-green water. Nothing could be seen more than a few centimetres below the surface.
The well was highly useful to the people who lived in the surrounding huts. They had dug it two years before because the only water tap in the colony was not enough for the slum’s growing population. There had never been any money for a wall around the well. The mouth of the well had gradually widened as the soil and rocks on the sides fell in. The bottom was narrow, muddy and filled with weeds. The well was dangerous; but it had been there for so long that no one worried about it. It seemed harmless. Kondiba had returned to the slum to eat a little food, which Yelanbai had prepared. His day’s begging usually ended when he had collected Rs. 5 to Rs. 6 in his small gunny bag.
Suddenly, there were shouts and sounds of great confusion. Kondiba and Yelanbai were startled, “Someone’s fallen in the well!” they heard a woman cry.
Kondiba set aside his meal and said urgently, “Quick, lead me there.” Within a minute the blind beggar and the woman reached the well, and pushed their way through a small group at the mouth of the well. In seconds Kondiba pulled off his shirt and slipped into the water. Two boys were already paddling around trying to find young Arvind, who had fallen off a tree trunk while drawing water. The boys could not dive.
Kondiba had been a good swimmer as a young boy before he lost his sight. But years of poverty had made him weak. Once he had been able to dive deep into the wells around his village to pick up shining bits of broken pottery that he and his friends would throw in as part of a game. But it had been many years since he had tried to hold his breath long enough to get to the bottom of a well.
Kondiba floated on the surface for a moment, then took a deep breath and dived. Carefully feeling his way along the rocks on the side of well, he reached the bottom; his feet sank into the soft mud. He felt nothing but the mud and the slippery weeds. Tired, and with his breath running out, he came to the surface.
It was now two minutes since Arvind had fallen in. His aunt, with whom he lived, was at the well. As Kondiba surfaced without the boy he heard her wailing.
The blind man took another deep breath and vanished into the muddy depths. His first dive had given him a good idea of the shape of the well. So he went straight down and tried to search the bottom with his hands. They slipped in the mud and got caught in the weeds. There was still no sign of the boy.
His lungs were nearly bursting. He rose to the top once again. He had been down longer than the first time, so the women and children were getting more and more excited. When his head appeared above the water, the crowd gave a sigh of disappointment.
Never in all the years of his blindness had Kondiba missed his vision so much. If only he could see, he might be able to find the drowning boy. He did not know that even normal eyes would never have been able to see in muddy water.
Kondiba was very tired, but he knew he was Arvind’s only hope. He worked as fast as he could, feeling his way through the mud and the weeds. “Arvind must be here,” he thought. “He cannot have vanished.”
Kondiba’s ribs were aching; he couldn’t hold his breath much longer. Then, just as he was about to twist his body upright and kick himself to the surface, his finger felt something soft among the weeds. Cloth! He moved his hand further and touched Arvind’s legs. The boy’s body was held in the mud and weeds.
Kondiba’s heart was beating painfully, he badly needed to breathe. He felt desperately for something to hold in order to pull Arvind up and out of the net he was in. Suddenly, he felt Arvind’s belt! Holding it tightly with his right hand, he pulled the lad free, turned about and pushed up. His spine and muscles ached. This almost stopped his movements. His weak, starved body fought against what his mind told him he must do.
Keeping a tight hold on the boy’s belt, Kondiba struggled to push himself upwards with his free hand and feet.
It seemed a long time before he rose the six metres from the bottom and broke surface. While he gasped for breath, other hands quickly lifted Arvind up and out of the well. Kondiba held on to the well’s rocky side, his eyes closed, his body tired. He heard, but paid little attention to the sounds of people trying to give Arvind artificial respiration. Finally, the boy began to vomit water, and cries to joy came to Kondiba still holding tightly to the side of the well.
Then Arvind was hurried away to the hospital. A man helped Kondiba out of the well and a woman patted him affectionately on the shoulder. Yelanbai led him back to the hut. There, Kondiba put on his clothes, finished his half-eaten meal, and fell asleep.
That evening, a police officer came to tell the blind beggar that the boy he had saved would be alright. Kondiba later learnt that if the boy had been in the well longer his brain would certainly have been damaged from lack of oxygen. And Kondiba had saved him just in time.
The next afternoon, Arvind returned to “Golibar”. He went at once to Kondiba and, while his aunt watched with tears in her eyes, he touched Kondiba’s feet in gratitude.
Indeed, Kondiba had saved a life. But his own still had to go on, and for him that meant begging. By afternoon Kondiba was back on the streets of Mumbai with his gunnysack. However, word soon began to spread about the beggar’s courage. His picture and the story of his daring rescue were published in many national and local papers. Suddenly Kondiba became a hero. He was praised by the Governor, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, and other officials. Rewards totalling Rs. 12,970 were presented to him. For a few months, he was given a home in a Home for the Blind. Here he learnt some skills such as bottling and the weaving of chair seats.
Today, Kondiba lives in Jalna, a market town close to his native village. He has married a local girl and runs a small business. Kondiba Gaikwad’s bravery and determination to find the boy in the well had completely changed his own life.
The beggar who hated begging need never beg again.
Kondiba Gaikwad, a blind man, had to leave his home in Aurangabad and come to Mumbai in search of work. He lived in a large slum colony in Ghatkopar with another family. In the slum, there was an open well which was unsafe as it had no walls. The well had gradually widened as the soil and rocks on the sides had fallen into it. This had made the water muddy.
One day, when Kondiba returned home and was about to have his meal, he heard a woman’s cry. Someone had fallen into the well. Kondiba went to the well and jumped in to save the boy named Arvind. Having been a swimmer as a young boy, he tried his best to search the boy. But weak due to poverty, he had to come to the surface again and again to take his breath. Each time he came up, he felt more tired and weak. The people were disappointed every time Kondiba came out without Arvind.
Kondiba dived again with full strength, wishing he was not blind. Although he was very tired, he did not give up. This time, he felt the clothes of Arvind against his hands. He caught hold of Arvind’s belt and brought him out. Arvind was taken to the hospital and Kondiba went back home to finish his meal. People heard the brave act of Kondiba and rewarded him.
Kondiba went back to his village, got married and started running a small business. The beggar who hated begging would never have to beg again.
Bravery and strong determination change life for the better.