On a cold winter morning in 1992, Bagicha Singh stepped out of his home in Panipat, Haryana, leaving behind his sobbing mother.
He told her, Bhagat Singh sacrificed his life for the country, and he also had a mother who loved him. Twenty-three years since, and five lakh eighty thousand kilometres on foot, the 81-year-old samaj sevak (he calls himself that) hasn’t returned home, neither has he given up on his mission to rid the country of its ills. He lists addiction to tobacco, drugs, alcohol and even sex with sex workers (causing STDs) as causes of concerns that are killing the youth. “If the youth is weak, so would the country be,” asserts the man, who is currently on a break in Hyderabad on his 22nd trip of the country. Everytime he stops over in the city, he rests at a small temple on Medchal road. “This temple is my favourite place in Andhra; it gives me peace of mind and swamy (priest) Uma Mahesh here takes good care of me,” he shares.
AN INSPIRATION TO THE YOUNG
Among the curious passers-by are four young men from the navy wing of National Cadet Corps (NCC). Curious, they stop to see and understand why there were two Indian flags waving on 18-foot long poles, attached to a 90-kg bagpack. They ask for a photograph with him, which he obliges. Then they get talking to him about the weight of his luggage and of course, his mission. They are flabbergasted. “Why don’t you lift it and see for yourself?” Bagicha asks confidently. Manoj Kumar goes first, then T Sai Kiran — both fail. They can’t even move it an inch, let alone lift it. Bagicha then sits down near his bag, and in about 15 seconds is on his feet, with the luggage on his back. “This is so inspiring!” echo the young men, “All the army training feels like nothing compared to the grit of this man. We will certainly never forget him.” They leave with a promise to return with dinner. Bagicha Singh declares he is a vegetarian.
WHEN ELEPHANTS SAVED HIM
On his journey nearing 6 lakh kilometres, this eccentric man has met many people, including politicians, celebrities and even animals. And his most memorable experiencethrough his journey has been one involving the animal kind. As he begins to narrate the decade-old story, there is a sparkle in his eyes. “On my way from Tezpur to Guwahati in Assam, I had to cross a forest where elephants call the shots. One has to carry dozens of bananas to cross the forest, as herds of elephants stop their human counterparts and don’t let them off unless they are given their ‘tax’. I carried six kilo bananas, and indulged the elephants. Not far ahead on this journey, I was surrounded by a group of Naga tribesmen,” he recalls, adding, “They demanded that I hand over all my belongings. I could not have overpowered them and was afraid of how I could get out of this soup. That’s when the elephants came to my rescue! The biggest one among them ran towards the group. The men panicked and fled. The elephant then picked up my bag with its trunk and the whole herd walked with me. Once we reached the road, I was given my bag and the herd walked back in.”
ANGRY WITH THE POLITICIANS
While animals have shown compassion to him, politicians have not. “Throughout my journey, I have been meeting chief ministers, governors, police commissioners and film stars. They meet me, take a picture, and move on with their lives. I never asked anything for myself, but why don’t they do something for the country? Why are our leaders going round the world begging companies to invest in India instead of addressing the issues here. The country here seems to be on a dangerous path while our politicians only care about their next foreign trip,” rues Bagicha. He plans to walk into the city and meet Tollywood stars and the chief minister.