If you are walking on the footpath on JP Road in Versova, then you might come across an elderly woman sitting just outside the gurudwara Sachkhand Darbar. Mumbaiites, used to seeing thousands of penniless men, women and children on the streets, could well mistake her for just another beggar.
But then she doesn’t beg. And penniless she maybe, but illiterate she is certainly not. In fact, 65-year old Sunita Naik speaks fluently in not one but five languages. What then is she doing sitting on the footpath in dirty, unwashed clothes, with a packet of stale food and a broken cell phone for company?
Naik has made the footpath outside the gurudwara her home for the last two months, along with her pet, a 12-year-old Pomeranian, named Sashi. “I lost both my parents at a very early age, but with encouragement from friends I managed to graduate from Pune University on merit and worked my way up to become an editor with a Marathi magazine called Grihalakshmi, which had its office in Girgaum. It shut down a few years back,” she told SUNDAY MiD DAY.
In her heydays, Naik was far from being a pauper. In fact on current valuation, she would have been a millionaire many times over. During the early 1980s, in the prime of her career, she bought two apartments in the plush Jayant apartments near Century Bazaar in Worli. In fact she used to live in apartments 22-23 till as recently as 2007.
She also inherited a family bungalow in Pune. She never travelled in public transport and society neighbours at Jayant Apartments remember her chauffer driving her around in either one of her two cars. “In 1984, I sold my bungalow on Bhandar Road in Pune for Rs 6 lakhs. In 2007, I sold both my flats in Worli, along with my two cars -- a Hyundai Ascent and an Indica. I received Rs 80 lakh in the deal and moved in to a leased bungalow in Thane.
But soon I realised that my funds were drying up mysteriously. So I came to Versova, looking for a cheaper flat on rent but finally ended up on the footpath, living off the charity of the gurudwara. They are nice people and have allowed me to stay under a makeshift pandal on the road. They also give me food,” Naik said.
The senior citizen says she has no idea how her bank balance shrunk or if anyone, is behind the crime. “I have no clue about it. Maybe my ex-employee Kamal Raikar, who lives in a small room in Bai Mahalin, Tardeo knows as she used to operate my bank accounts, maybe she can throw some light on the matter. She also looked after me for the past 15 years. But I have no way of contacting her, as I have lost all my contacts after my mobile phone got drenched in the rain,” she said, pointing to her cell phone, which has water floating in the screen.
Not all gloom and doom
Thankfully for Naik, she has friends and well wishers. She admitted that she had received offers from friends and strangers to accommodate her, but most of them had asked her to get rid of the dog, who is unwell and flea ridden. But Naik is unwilling to dump someone who has been loyal to her for 12 years.
“I am educated and speak five languages, so I don’t mind getting a job and starting my life afresh,” she said, refusing any kind of financial help offered to her by this correspondent.
Mahinder Singh, a senior member of the gurudwara said he was aware of Naik’s plight and had organised two square meals for her every day. “We hope there is someone out there who can help her lead a normal life,” he said.
SMD tracked down Vinod Parker, an old neighbour of Naik at Jayant Apartments, who confirmed that the senior citizen indeed owned flats in the same building. “She was an introvert and would not mix too much with others,” he recalled.
Another senior member of the same building recalled Naik having a chauffeur-driven car. “She led quite an affluent life, but would invariably stay aloof. We completely lost touch with her after she sold off her second floor flats. It is shocking and sad to know that she now lives on a footpath,” he said.
Naik also spoke of actor Brij Bhatnagar, a regular at the Gurudwara, he said, “I would see Naik and her dog near the gurudwara. I take care of all her medical bills and try to meet her as often as possible.” Perhaps there are more good human beings somewhere, who will give Naik another crack at life.