The medicine man who's aiding the poor and needy

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As soon as he gets close to the houses, Omkar Nath cries out: "If you have any medicine you have no use for, and you want to help the poor, then please donate it." In English his entreaty may sound clumsy. But on this bright morning, in Mr Nath's easy, fluid Hindi, it comes across like a song.

For three years, the 75-year-old has walked the streets of Delhi, collecting unwanted medicine, and then donating it to clinics that provide care for the poor. He has become a city celebrity and won the nickname of Medicine Baba.

"The best places are the middle-class and lower middle-class neighbourhoods," he says, explaining that he rarely receives donations from wealthy areas.

Aged 12, Mr Nath's legs were badly injured after he was hit by a car while crossing the road. His bones grew back skewed and awkward. Today, his daily five-mile sorties around Delhi, and bus journey back to the slum area where he lives, are not easy.

On a recent morning, i accompanied Mr Nath as he collected. One of the first to hand over medicine was Manoj Sharma, who gave painkillers formerly belonging to his mother. He said he knew who Medicine Baba was. "We think he is doing a very good thing."

But not everyone gave Medicine Baba an easy ride. One man said he had not heard about the collections and had no idea who Mr Nath was. "Why are you doing this?" he asked.

"Because of my inner calling," Mr Nath smiled back. "When I retired I decided I would put my time to good use."

As his fame has grown, television channels have got to know about him. He often tells people to look out for him on the news. When he answers his phone, he does so with a flourish: "Medicine Baba speaking." He says he got the idea for his collections after a construction accident in Delhi in 2008. A concrete post fell, killing two and injuring many others. "The injured were taken to a hospital but it gave them only basic treatment. The hospital said it did not have enough medicine. It struck me then that if I could obtain medicine, it could be distributed free of charge."

After each collection, he carefully catalogues it. Anything not sealed gets discarded. Mr Nath's eventual aim is to establish a free medicine bank, properly catalogued and available to NGOs and charities.