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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 October, 2003, 07:03 GMT 08:03 UK
Ancient pilgrim prepares for Hajj

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC correspondent in Jaipur

It's pay day for Habib Miyan, who says he is 132 years old - and he can hardly stop smiling.

Habib Miyan with bank employee, Mr Nagpal
Pleased to get his monthly due: Habib Miyan receives his pension
The local bank official in the Indian state of Rajasthan, where the old man lives, is visiting to present him with his monthly pension.

Habib Miyan has been drawing his pension since his retirement in 1938 - his pension papers document his age as 125, although he claims to be older.

But this time he has asked for a bit more than his 1,900 rupee ($40) pension to be drawn from his account.

He has asked for extra money to pay for purchases as part of preparations to make his first Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca this December.

Benefactor

Habib Miyan is able to make the journey thanks to a UK-based businessman, who is funding his trip after reading about him on BBC News Online.

Mr Khan, the 30-year-old company chairman from London, transferred 270,000 rupees ($5,700) to help pay for the pilgrimage.

HABIB MIYAN
With grandsons

Rajesh Nagpal is the bank official who has been visiting Habib Miyan for the past several years and handles his account.

"Mr Khan and I exchanged several e-mails to determine how much money should be wired to us," he says.

"I got in touch with the local Hajj committee to work out the costs for Habib Miyan and three of his family members to go along with him, and we arrived at the figure of 270,000 rupees."

Habib Miyan, who has now lost his eyesight, will be accompanied by two grandsons, Mehmood and Chuttan Khan, and their mother Munni Bewa.

Dream comes true

The family of 32 live in a narrow, three-storey house in a Muslim neighbourhood in Jaipur, the Rajasthani capital.

Animals scavenge through rubbish, and open drains line the narrow lane outside their house.

"Ours is a poor neighbourhood and it's impossible for anyone here to go on the Hajj because of the enormous expenses involved," explains Chuttan Khan.

"I feel very, very privileged. Going to the Hajj is the ultimate dream come true."

Handing out sweets to neighbourhood children
Bridging the generation gap: Habib Miyan hands out biscuits
In a dark inner room, Habib Miyan holds court.

He keeps the neighbours, who drop in several times a day to seek his counsel, entertained with stories of ancient times.

"His memory is so sharp," says one of them.

"He tells us stories of kings and queens, of heroes and of their loves."

But bring him back to the present and the lucidity starts to fade.

"In my youth, we had no telephones, no way to communicate the way you do," he says, slowly, as he tries to comprehend the sequence of events that brought him into contact with his benefactor.

"I suppose Mr Khan read about us in a newspaper - in which the BBC told him about my condition and my wish."

Getting ready

But he brightens up as his grandson brings him a new prayer cap to try on.

"Very nice," he mutters as he feels it with his fingers.

Donning shoes
The old man is looking forward to the pilgrimage to Mecca

"We need to buy caps, clothes, even provisions such as wheat and lentils for our journey," explains Chuttan Khan.

"These things cost a lot more in Saudi Arabia, so we'll try and take as much as we can."

The preparations for the trip are well under way.

A sum of 10,550 rupees ($230) has been deposited with the Hajj committee, which will make all the arrangements to fly the pilgrims to Mecca.

"We've got the notification from the committee saying we're booked to go," says Mr Khan, beaming.

It's late evening and the neighbours slink away, leaving an old man to his prayers.

He says one for a stranger thousands of miles away who has made his wish come true.

"You have allowed me to meet Allah and I pray that He looks over you.

"May He grant you a life longer than mine."

  • Khan is an assumed name for the businessman for the purpose of this article only.




  • SEE ALSO:
    Ancient man's prayers answered
    06 Jun 03  |  England
    Indian man's 65 years as OAP
    22 May 03  |  South Asia


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