It is amazing how the gloomiest of days can just turn around after speaking with someone. On an unusually dreary winter afternoon, a 23-minute phone call with Auto T Raja was enough to lift my spirits. This 50-year-old man is the messiah of thousands of destitute and beggars in and around Bangalore. But has he always been this compassionate and responsible? A big no.
From a spoiled young man who was charged with robbery, to a saviour who rescues thousands of people from the streets, Auto T Raja has underwent a huge transformation. He is an idol for everyone who thinks they have nothing to look forward to in life.
Living a dog’s life
Born to a telephone linesman, Raja grew up amidst poverty and felt deprived of parental love and care as a child. It did not take much time for him to slip into bad company and subsequently bid goodbye to schooling. Raja took to drinking and gambling, which required constant inflow of money. To feed his vices, soon enough, he began stealing.
“I became a don within no time. I even stole my mother’s mangalsutra and eventually, all my family property was lost,” Raja tells KenFolios in an interview.
After trying all means, ultimately his parents threw Raja out of the house leaving him no option but to live on the streets. His bedroom would shift from garbage bins to bus stands. “I became a street dog. I had no address and no plans,” he says.
As a 16-year-old, Raja went to Chennai and took part in a robbery. He was caught and sent to a juvenile home by the local police for reformation.
In jail, Raja realized that there was more to life and decided to serve the needy. He says he started meditating and praying to God. After serving sentence, he started driving auto rickshaw and taxi. “I saw many people living on the streets, hungry, spending their life around flies and urinal. Many of them were suffering with HIV, cancer, tuberculosis, and depression,” he recalls.
Raja’s life took a turn when one day, he saw a naked man lying on the road, counting his last breaths. Heartbroken, he decided to do something for them. But he did not have any money. “I would earn Rs 100 everyday at that time. There were times I did not have anything to feed my wife and children.”
In 1997, Raja launched New Ark Mission of India from a 5 x 6-feet passage outside his single room-house. He would pick destitutes from the street in his auto and bring them home. He would clean their wounds, bathe them, dress afresh and feed them. “My parents would tell me that I have turned into a bad person because I was bringing mad people in the house,” recalls Raja. Neither his family nor friends supported his in his work.
A few months later, Raja’s wife extended a helping hand and the couple started rescuing more people. As the number of residents increased, Raja felt a pressing need for a bigger space. Coming as a huge respite, a church gave him Rs 5,000 as a donation and also provided their building space. That was when Home Of Hope came into existence and their work began to grow. Since then, there has been no looking back.
For more than 20 years, Home Of Hope has rescued more than 11,000 people. More than 6,000 people have died in peace and dignity.
“Some told me their last wish was to have chicken kebab or masala dosa. This might be a very small thing for us but it meant a lot to them,” tells Raja.
Currently, Hope of Hope gives shelter to 700 people, including 80 abandoned or orphaned children. They have a doctor, psychiatrist, and eight nurses to look after the inmates. Raja sends these children to private schools and wishes that they become good citizens and help the needy in their own ways.
Despite housing so many underprivileged Raja still does not have a home for himself.”I hope God will build a good home for me in the heaven,” he says with an innocent smile. He says he wants to make Karnataka a state where nobody begs. “We should not wait for another Mother Teresa to come to our country and serve the people. We should be like her and we should serve the poor and needy,” he says as we sign off.
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