Unforgettable People Series: An Encounter with Bhatia Sahab

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Folks, I have to share this with you…

This morning I was out on an errand when I saw Bhatia sahab waiting at a bus stop.

For those who are unfamiliar with the name, Bhatia sahab is a traffic warden with the Pune Traffic Police. He has been volunteering for the last 20 years at different traffic signals mainly in the part of the city I frequent. He is over 80, bent over with age, but there he would be at some crossing or the other, directing traffic. This remarkable man has often featured in the local newspapers and has been felicitated for his selfless service by various organizations. I remember reading that he’s never missed a day’s work come heavy rain or the harshest sun.

So when I saw him today, I couldn’t resist offering him a lift to his point of work this morning. During the 10 minute drive, I had one of the most amazing conversations of my life.

Since he has always looked a little sad to me, after some ice-breaking discussions on the terrible state of traffic in Pune, I asked him if my friends and I could help him in any way. He gave me such a blank look that I rushed to add “Do you need any monetary help?” His reply stunned me. “I earn 500/- a month as interest from the savings I made when I had my business of repairing radios”, he said. “I stay alone. How much more do I need? In any case, money is money whether it is in your hands or mine”. Not knowing how to respond, I asked him if the Pune Traffic Police took care of his expenses in any way. He categorically said this was his service to the people, so where was the question of taking money? As a last attempt at helping him, I asked if there was anything he needed that we could provide. He said, “My room is full of things and I don’t need anything more. The local corporator gives me a new uniform every year during Ganapati festival. I’ve been awarded by so many police commissioners and NGOs.” After a pause, he added shyly “But I don’t mind if you give me an award with my name written on it.” Yet again, I was caught on the wrong foot and started mumbling that I wasn’t part of any company or organization, and had no clue how to ensure he gets another award. Very sweetly, Bhatia sahab gave me directions to a commercial part of the city where one could buy cups and shields and said that they would even emboss the name for me!

Alas, by then we had reached his destination. My head was full of a hundred other questions for him but, for today, I left it at that, and took my leave from him.

I am already looking forward to the day I run into him again…




Nandini Bhattacharjee, 47, has lived in Kolkata, Durgapur, Hospet and now resides in Pune. She worked for 18 years in a steel plant mainly in environment management. Nandini has been a trainer for management training programmes for 21 years. She took an early retirement from 'paid' work and spends some time volunteering when she's not mentally wrestling with her teenage sons.

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