The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Back to pavement, with passbook

When Soni Begum, a pavement-dweller, entered Jorasanko police station to return Rs 7,500 that she had found while rummaging a roadside vat, little did she realise that this “simple” act would send her life into a strange spin.

Ever since that act of extraordinary honesty on March 10, Soni, a mother of three, has been running scared from individual and organised efforts to thrust fortune and fame on her.

With three-year-old Raja, five-year-old Rosy and eight-year-old Amir in tow, Soni had “disappeared” for a while, unable to bear the pressure of promised benevolence and the prospect of being separated from her children.

A growing list of admirers —from the London-based managing director of a leading tea company to a social welfare organisation in North 24-Parganas — was kept waiting by the mother, refusing all “welfare” schemes for her children for fear that it would take them away from her.

Now, finally, Soni is back where she feels she belongs — the pavement on Colootola Street, that has been her home for a while and close to where she found that newspaper-wrapped bundle of cash she could so easily have used for herself and her under-nourished children.

And now, she even has a bank account.

“Several people from the city and abroad contacted me, but Soni was seen nowhere. I alerted the adjoining police stations, seeking information about her whereabouts,” said Timir Bhattacharya, officer-in-charge (OC) of Jorasanko police station.

Bhattacharya received the first token amount as a tribute to Soni’s act of honesty from a Toronto-based businessman — a cheque for Rs 7,500, the exact amount she had found and returned. “It was an account-payee cheque and drawn in favour of Soni Begum. It has been lying in my almirah, as we could not track her down till Sunday,” said Bhattacharya.

On Monday, Bhattacharya took Soni to the Jorasanko branch of the State Bank of India to open an account in her name. “It proved to be a tough task. She is a pavement-dweller and does not have any document to prove that she is an Indian citizen,” said Bhattacharya.

Initially, Soni was refused permission to open an account. But following discussions between police and bank officials, an exception was made for an exceptional woman.

“Now, Soni Begum will be able to clear the cheques and withdraw money. She was happy because she had never imagined that she would have a bank account,” said Bhattacharya.

Soni had earlier been taken to a welfare organisation in south Calcutta, in connection with an offer made by the London-based officials of a tea-manufacturing company.

“The company was ready to pay for the education of Soni’s children. For this, they had even assigned an officer in Calcutta to coordinate with Soni and to ensure that the three kids gained admission to a south Calcutta school-cum-welfare organisation. But Soni refused, as she feared it would separate her from her kids,” recounted Bhattacharya. Soon after that, Soni went missing.

But now that she is back and with a bank account to show, it would be easier for her benefactors, opined the Jorasanko OC.

“An organisation that has been keen to help her from the beginning has decided to come to the thana on Friday and hand over a cheque for Rs 10,000 to Soni,” said Bhattacharya.

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