Diving for diamonds - and life - in Yamuna waters (Feature With Image)

By Subuhi Parvez, IANS
Friday, November 19, 2010

NEW DELHI - Moinuddin and Krishna, though as different as chalk and cheese, have one thing in common. They follow a unique profession that both chanced upon many years ago - diving into Delhi’s Yamuna river and fishing out coins thrown in by devotees.

At festival time they come out with a prize catch or two - a gold coin or a gold coated statue - that sees them through for many months. One of them was lucky enough to find a diamond ring! The stinking, choked and heavily polluted river provides them their bread and butter. They eat, sleep and even drink the dirty water and claim to be disease-free and perfectly healthy.

The 1,376-km long river has been reduced to a drain in Delhi. But, by their own count, at least 150 men like Moinuddin and Krishna find sustenance in it as divers.

Sixty-five-year-old Moinuddin, who hails from Lucknow, came to Delhi at the age of nine and was clueless about what to do for a living. He was living on the pavement and one fine day, a ‘panditji’ or Hindu priest came and gave him a blanket. The pandit also took him along and taught him carpentry and truck driving which enabled him to earn a living.

He stayed with the man for nine years but after his death, Moinuddin left for Lucknow. He got married to a girl of his choice and had a son. But his world came crashing down when his wife died just three years into their marriage.

“I was completely heartbroken. I did not marry again. No one can take the place of my wife in my life. I returned to Delhi and since then the Yamuna has been my constant companion,” Moinuddin told IANS.

He lives on the banks of the river and cooks his own food and washes his own clothes. Even at this age, he does not hesitate to dive into the river “and Yamuna maa (mother) has never disappointed me”, he says.

He gets Rs.50-100 every day. Once he got lucky and found a diamond ring and an ‘asharfi’, or gold coin. That enabled him to take rest from work for a few months.

“It’s a bit difficult for me now that I am getting old. When I was young, I could hold my breath for about 10 minutes inside the water. Now I can hardly do it for three minutes. But I enjoy the atmosphere here.”

While many come seeking bliss, others come to end their lives. “I have saved at least 40 lives by saving them from drowning. I get Rs.4,000 to Rs.5,000 for saving a life.”

Krishna, his 30-year-old companion, was 11 when he came to Delhi from Kolkata in search of a job. At that time he used to come to the Yamuna to pick up coconuts, some of which he ate and the rest he sold.

He got work but for a few days. Though he is a trained electrician, he failed to find a permanent job and was frustrated.

Once he saw a few older men coming out of the water with coins in their mouth. He was curious to know what they did. And since then, he too has made it his profession to dive into the Yamuna for coins and other little treasures.

“I get Rs.100-200 every day. Some days I do return empty-handed. But during festivals, the pickings are usually large. During Navratras, I make Rs.3,000 a day. However, diving into the river is not possible during the winters, so in those days I pull a rickshaw for a living,” Krishna told IANS.

But he is looking for an alternate profession. “These days there is a strong smell of some gas emanating from the river which makes diving difficult,” he says.

(Subuhi Parvez can be contacted at subiparvez@gmail.com)

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