The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Riches pale before rags
- Starving kids in hand, woman returns Rs 7,500

Name: Soni Begum

Age: 32

Address: Pavement of Colootola St.

Marital status: Married, husband missing

Children: Three

Profession: Ragpicker

Ambition: To feed the children two square meals

Calcutta, March 10: Around 5 pm yesterday, Soni Begum was rummaging through a vat near Mohammad Ali Park in central Calcutta.

Her searching hand came upon a packet wrapped in a newspaper. Once she opened the folds, a neat pile of currency notes hove into view. For the first time in her life, Soni saw a Rs 500 note, all 15 of them together.

Sabse pehle main bachchon ko pura khana khilati, uske baad main ek achchha gulabi rang ka salwar-kameez kharidti, agar kuchh bachta to ek bank account bhi khol leti (First, I would have given my children a full meal, then I would have bought for myself a pink salwar-kameez and if some money was left after that, I would have opened a bank account).”

With Rs 7,500 in her hands, she could do all these things, in that priority.

But she didn’t.

She tried to find the owner of the money, though the chances were always going to be slim.

Her neighbours on the pavement advised her to pocket the money. Without telling anyone, she went to the local Jorasanko police station with the bundle.

“I was surprised to see this ragpicker, wearing clothes that had seen their best days long back, come here with 15 Rs 500 notes in her hands,” officer-in-charge Timir Bhattacharjya said today.

“Truth to tell, I have not come across an upper class or upper-middle class person doing this,” he added.

Sitting in a corner of the police station, Soni, who is only in her early thirties but carries on her face the lines drawn by her all-weather profession, recounted her fruitless exercise of finding the person who had lost the money.

“I thought someone must have thrown away the packet by mistake,” she said.

“It is true that I need money but I thought the person who had lost the packet must have been in a situation worse than me.”

Her three-year-old son Raja looked on. “They are always hungry,” she said about her children.

“Actually, I do not earn enough to give them proper meals.”

After a tiff with some neighbourhood boys on Holi last Saturday, her husband and fellow ragpicker, Mohammad Raju, had gone missing.

Soni is now staring at life without him and with the responsibility of raising three children — the other two are five-year-old Rosy and eight-year-old Amir.

A police vehicle took Soni to meet the deputy commissioner of the central division, to whom the Jorasanko police station had recommended her name for an award. Clutching her son, she left.

She had bought a tiny balloon for Raja and a biscuit from which she fed him pieces as he simpered every once in a while, unhappy to be stuck inside a police station.

At the deputy commissioner’s office, Soni was given Rs 1,000 in acknowledgement of her honesty.

If she is not out ragpicking, you can find her under a blue polythene sheet covering a part of the pavement on Colootola Street near the School of Tropical Medicine on Chittaranjan Avenue.

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