By worldly standards, Kamala Lochan Baliarsingh would qualify in the last line of fortune and poverty- a ragpicker cum beggar who sleeps on a railway platform and feeds himself on the alms of the passer-by, or if he’s having a lucky day, then on some leftover canteen food. But, by the standards of humanity, you’ll seldom find people as wealthy and satisfied as him! Can’t you tell it from his heart-melting beautiful smile?
Once Lord Krishna (the supreme Hindu deity) and Arjuna were having a deep conversation about the importance of charity. Arjuna proudly exclaimed, “I am yet to meet a man more charitable and noble than my elder brother, Yudhisthir!” Krishna smiled at Arjuna’s pride, and said “O Arjuna, Yudhisthir is indeed noble, but definitely not the most charitable man in the world! He is Dharmaraj (king of righteousness), but not a Daanveer (a charitable Braveheart)” Arjuna, failing to digest this opposition from Krishna asked him to prove his statement. Krishna smiled playfully. A few days later, they both disguised as brahmins and went to Yudhisthir asking for some sandalwood to cook food. It was raining heavily outside, hence Yudhisthir couldn’t find any dry sandalwood fit to use as fuel. Regretfully, he had to refuse the brahmins. Next, they went to Karna and expressed their desire. Since it was raining outside, Karna knew getting dry sandalwood would be impossible at such short notice. Without a moment of hesitation, Karna uprooted the beautifully carved doors of his mansion that were made of sandalwood, and made the offerings to the Brahmins. On their way back, Lord Krishna said, “O Arjuna, the purest act of charity is not when you give a leftover share of what you don’t need; it is when you place the need of those who are unfortunate before yours and offer whatever you possess to ease their pain!”
This is one of the many bed-time stories I was told as a child, that has stayed with me, and shaped my perspective on life. However, while growing up I always thought about this story as utterly ideal, and not at all practical in today’s times. After all, charity begins at home, right? Who would, in this day and age, compromise on their own desires to accommodate other people’s needs? Especially, when one is needy, and in pain himself.
Then, I happened to know about Kamala Lochan Baliarsingh and his selfless humanitarian act. It was as if I was hearing the bed-time story all over again, albeit this time it was really happening.
Kamala Lochan Baliarsingh left his home in his sixties because of a family dispute. He also had to quit the job that paid him a salary of merely Rs. 90, due to a limp in his leg. To survive, he took up rag-picking on Bhubaneshwar station, Orissa, which has been his abode now for more than three decades. He does not get paid for this work and feeds himself on the leftover food thrown on platforms, or on tracks. He started to observe that there were many stray dogs on the station, and like him, no one took notice of them too. They were left to scavenge for food by themselves, which resulted in them going hungry for many days. He knew what it meant to go to bed on an empty stomach for endless days and depend on the kindness of others for survival. Hence, he started sharing his food with them. He looked for food more religiously, and made sure that the dogs were fed two proper meals; he’d then eat whatever little was left, which sometimes was nothing.
Every day, during meal-time, dogs would flock around him, and they’d all share the left-over food like a feast. Gradually station masters started noticing this trend, and moved by Kamala’s kindness, offered him help. Kamala was reluctant to accept it initially, but for the sake of his furry family, he accepted an offering of two biscuit packets a day from them. With the sky as his roof-top, and stars as his lanterns, he found comfort in the love of his family of seven stray dogs. No matter where all of them wander in the day, they come back to each other for a good night’s sleep. Even when a few dogs return late in the night, Kamala makes sure they eat before sleep.
We’ve all read or heard about many noble stories of charity by many people, and they are all incredibly great. But none is as profound as Kamala’s story! His compassion marvels me. If humanity could take a physical form, it’d become Kamala Lochan Baliarsingh. It reminds me of my grandmother’s words-
“If you have a hunger for three rotis (Indian bread), And you have four, it is extremely easy to let go of that one extra roti. However, the real test of character is when you have a hunger for three, but you just have two, and you still decide to share one out of it with the needy!”