An old Marshal


– Ariba Khaliq and Rachita Kauldhar

For five years now, the night shelter at the St Columba’s School in Delhi is looked after by Savitri Devi, fondly known as “Amma”. 80 year old Amma has her own preferences in life and does not want to stay with her son and daughter-in-law because she does not want to bother them.  A homeless herself, Amma finds solace at the place which provides a ceiling to the people seeking a refuge.

In her opinion, the world has changed a lot and people are mean now.

This makes her unhappy in life. Amma, even in this old age, is quite authoritative and people are scared to talk to her. But there is much more to Amma than her watery eyes and wrinkled face. Amma questions and complains to God about every pain that a woman has to go through in her life.

The night shelter was started in November 2002 to provide shelter to people freezing in the cold nights of Delhi but soon after it started working all through the year. Even affluent people coming from places outside the city find it comfortable enough to spend their nights here.

But this place would lose its significance if Amma would not be here. Lalita Sharma, who often stays at the shelter says, “Even if Amma dies, her spirit would wander at this place.”

Amma opens the door of the night shelter at 6 p.m. in the evening. People have to leave the place at 6 a.m. in the morning. After that classes are held in this space.

Asra Bi has been staying at the shelter with her 15 colleagues for five days now. They are here from Bhopal to talk to the government about poor portable water conditions for the victims of the Uphar Gas tragedy.

Tired after the press conference, the people from Bhopal, stop to get fresh air. They belong to a ‘Sanstha’ (along with Asra Bi) which is working for the rights of the victims of the Uphaar gas tragedy.

Mr Jatin Arora has come to the city for some work. He finds the shelter better than most of the B- Star hotels where he would have to pay Rs. 200 per day.

Jonathan,14, visits Amma regularly. She finds the love of her grandson in him. He even helps her with work.

Amma serves tea to the people who stay at the shelter, twice a day. Initially she even used to make food for them. But she has stopped doing it as it was difficult to manage it with her other duties.

The mattresses provided at the shelter are kept in a separate room. Everyday at least 20 people come to spend their night at the shelter.

Out of 15,000 homeless people in Delhi, about 90% are male.

“This world is going towards doom. People will have to face the consequences of their wrong deeds.” says Amma.

People belonging to all faiths find refuge from their homelessness here.

Lalita Sharma and Anjana Pathak are two women estranged by their husbands. They work in NDMC on temporary basis for a living.

Amma cannot eat food because she has no teeth. She only has tea twice a day. But this does not stop her from fulfilling her responsibilities with full zeal and face the hardships of life all alone.

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~ by Niha on April 25, 2010.

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