Have you heard of a person called ‘Auto Raja’? He is a former auto driver whose formal educational qualification is Standard III, though he has received an honorary doctorate later. He was a thief, a goonda, and a convict at a very young age. But now, he is a transformed person. He hugs and saves every destitute he sees on the streets. He feeds them, he gives them a place to stay in his ‘Home of Hope’ at Bangalore, and he takes care of all their needs to give them a life and death with dignity. The events related to Narayanan who went missing on a fine day (described me in the earlier article (click here to read)), led me to Auto Raja.
Here below the excerpts of Raja’s long conversation with me:
What was your inspiration for starting this great initiative to care for the poor and needy?
I do not know exactly. I have not seen Mother Teresa. But I have heard about her. I was a neglected person in the childhood. Everyone hated me because I used to steal money and things from others. I studied only upto 3rd standard. Even at that time I used to steal from my classmates. I used to beat other children if they didn’t pay me paisa. So they used to pay me 10 paisa, 5 paisa etc. to get rid of me. I robbed my mother’s mangal sutra and sold to get money. I stole mother’s silk saree and sold it. I used to spend the money for partying and cinema with friends. Finally my parents threw me out of my house. I slept on the streets, bus stand, railway station, foot path etc. I went to Chennai and I was caught by Police there. I was jailed and stayed along with about 300 persons. They didn’t give me any fresh pair of clothes. I used the same pant and shirt I wore to wipe after bath. Entire area was smelling bad. I couldn’t go to toilet for many days. I became sick and felt miserable. I thought I would die in the cell. I was just 16 at that time. I prayed and cried to God: ‘Are you there to help me?’ I wept there and prayed for more hours, though another 300 people were around watching me. After my long prayer, which I did for the first time in my life, my entire body sweated, which was very unusual. I sweat profusely. Suddenly I felt relieved from all pain, fever, and the sore throat. I felt that God has answered my prayer. For the first time I felt the presence of God and instantly believed that there is someone who still loves me. I prayed to God again intensely. ‘God, hear my prayer once again. If you take me out of this jail before this Christmas, I will live a worthy life for you’. That was the time my parents who lived in a far away native place came to know that I am in the prison. They came all the way to Chennai. They took the help of an advocate and got me out of the jail.
What was the response of your parents after you were released from the Jail?
I fell on the feet of my parents. I told my dad: ‘I have got a new lease of life dad. I don’t want to get destroyed again’. He gave me Rs 1000 and with that I registered for a licence to drive auto and became an auto driver. But as I was driving auto in the streets, my eyes would go straight to those people who sleep on the streets, the beggars at signals, and the orphan children on the road. I felt compassionate to them. I never had any such feeling ever towards anyone including my parents. But the new life had transformed me miraculously. I got an instant craving to go and hug those beggars on the streets. I asked God: ‘How could you leave those children you created in your image to live in such miserable conditions?’ I got the answer later: ‘I have created people like you to help them!’
With your meagre income as an auto driver, how did you manage the resources to help the beggars and the unwanted?
I started helping them in a humble way. The news of mother Teresa’s death reached me during that period. I saw her photos in the newspapers and heard about how she saved those who were about to die on the streets. I started reaching out to those unfortunate ones. I brought a few of them to my own house. We had a small shed in front of our house where my dad used to park his two-wheeler. I accommodated them there. I cleaned their wounds, shaved and bathed them and gave food.
There are a few people who criticized me also: ‘Look at the thief, who used to rob people! Now he is trying to become a saint. He is just acting to get sympathy from people’. But I continued my work. I understood the need for a larger place as I came across more people who led an invalid life on the streets. I named my place ‘Home of Hope’. After about an year I approached an NGO called ‘India Campus Crusade for Christ’ located nearby. They visited my place and understood the need and offered to help. After about 2 years they bought a land for my work which can accommodate 50 persons. But the number of persons I brought from the streets went above 200. Meanwhile Chief Minister of the state helped me in purchasing another piece of land where a building was constructed to accommodate about 250 men. I accommodate about 50 orphan children in a nearby house.
I rescued more than 5000 people from the streets. More than 2800 people died in our home. We ask them their last wish and try to fulfil that. I am very happy to see their smile.
Tell me about your family. Did they support you in your venture?
I prayed to God that he should give me means to take care of my wife, children and parents so that I can fully work for the poor. We stay in the same building where the destitute ladies stay as our own family members. My wife looks after them along with my relatives. I am the dad for not only my two daughters and son, but also for all the 500 persons in the Home of Hope.