Tale of a different prodigal son

Last week, Indian army Captain Ravindra Kumar Bali (67) went home, finally. About 20 years ago Captain Bali was evicted from his ancestral home in Kota in Rajasthan. “Some of his relatives came and took him home last week,” a watchman from a nearby bungalow at the Officers Mess at Pune Cantonment told me.

Captain had made the footpath across the road near the Officers Mess his home for the last five years. To shield himself from the scorching sun and rain, he tied a blue tarpaulin sheet across the fence of a bungalow and Gulmohar tree. During heavy rains, he moved his bed and took shelter at night at the porch of some old unoccupied bungalows in the area. He spoke fluent English and read English newspapers. He did not blame anyone but his destiny.

Bali is the son of a police officer, who had two wives. After completing school, his dream bought him to the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune in June 1970. He trained hard for four years and spent another four years at the College of Military Engineering (CME), Pune. He had a soaring career in the army but it was short lived. His ailing parents wrote him letters that his step-siblings were troubling them and had finally evicted them from their own ancestral house. He returned home to take care of his parents and tendered his resignation in 1988. Since he did not complete 20 years of service in the army as required by rules, he was neither entitled for voluntary retirement nor was he eligible for pension. Bali spent his savings on treating his parents, who did not survive for more than three years.

Soon he was engaged in a legal battle for his share of the ancestral house. But his influential siblings managed to evict him. Fed up with the long drawn court battle and with no relief in sight, Bali left his native place and went to Prabhas Patan, near the famous Somnath Temple in Gujarat, and sold fish for 10 years. He did not save but spent all he had on maintaining his lifestyle. He came to Pune, got a job with a BPO but soon it shut down. He left for Kerala in search of a job. But on a rainy day, as he crossed a river on bicycle all his documents were washed away. With no proof of identity, he returned to Pune and started living on a footpath.

Michael Gonsalves