Friday, September 11, 2009

man spent a lifetime among dead for a good night's sleep

On the face of it, 60-year-old Mukund Prabakhar Agte looks like a regular middle-class bloke with a steady job and a cosy home in a distant suburb. But this well groomed man in a light blue striped shirt, olive green trousers and a ready smile has a little secret. When the sun goes down and nocturnal creatures emerge from their hideouts, he heads to where not too many people would dare—one of the city's crematoriums for a good night's rest.

This abode of the dead is what Agte calls home most of the time—for the rest, he's equally comfortable settling down in a corner of a Western Railway corridor or platform, or even a South Mumbai footpath. But he's no destitute, just a loner with a little quirk—of not wanting to rent property in Mumbai despite a salary of Rs 25,000.

A senior clerk in Western Railway operating department, Agte, who retired recently after 37 years of service, has a large family that includes three sisters, a brother who worked in the US, a father, a wife and two daughters.

Compatibility issues—he bluntly admits that he does not get on with any of his relatives—led to him walking out of his father's home at 23 with his young bride, and thereafter to several relatives' houses, which he also left "since they all demanded money". He even turned down the option of government-provided accommodation because it would puncture his salary. Finally, he took his wife to his in-laws' home in Mangaon, where he later rented a place.

Agte then got down to the business of life in Mumbai. He slept at the Mahalaxmi, Marine Lines and Virar crematoriums for over two decades, used the WR public washrooms, ate one meal a day at the WR canteen and lived out of a small brown bag which contained all his worldly belongings.

I need less than Rs 500 to get me through the month," he says. "Actually I spend just around Rs 100." For Agte, who visits his family only during holidays, crematoriums score over every other nocturnal resting place.

"I don't interact with any of my family except my wife, daughters and grandchildren. They have my office landlines number." Now that he has bid farewell to his railway life, Agte, who has also been performing priestly jobs over weekends, has an offer from a temple in Goregaon.

But he refuses to change his way of living. "I will continue my nomadic way of living."

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