BALLARI: Deshantara hodru swatantravagirbeku.’ Wherever you go, you must be independent. That is what Sidiginamola Marisiddappa believes. And the message from the 96-year-old Gandhian seems apt on the eve of the nation’s 70th Independence Day.
Even at his age, he goes around on a cycle, selling agarbatti. When he pedals through the streets of Ballari in the scorching sun, people are more than willing to buy from him. They know he seeks a fair price.
In fact, Marisiddappa offers discounts. And for those who ask, he is happy to tell stories about the freedom struggle, and how he caught a glimpse of Mahatma Gandhi in Ballari in the 1930s. “I was 13 then. There was a huge crowd at the railway station. My friends and I went there and finally got to see Gandhiji,” he says.
Marisiddappa hailed from a remote village, and the freedom struggle was new to him. “After Independence, my friends and I travelled to Delhi, Agra, Allahabad and other cities. The train tickets cost us just `15,” he recalls.
While young people see in him a role model, older people take inspiration from his enthusiasm for life.
“I have been seeing him for more than 20 years and buying agarbattis from him. He inspires everyone,” says Subramanya, a resident of Gandhi Nagar. His customers are delighted at the quality of the agarbattis he sells. Clad in a coat, a Nehru cap, a white shirt and a dhoti, Marisiddappa visits his customers’ houses regularly. They ask about his health first.
Marisiddappa enjoys respect because of his hard work. He wakes up at 4 am, and starts selling his wares at 10 am. He winds up business by 2 pm. His daily turnover is about `1,500 and he takes home a profit of 10 per cent.
Inspired by Gandhi, he wears simple clothes, eats minimal food and lives a disciplined life. His wife is 85 and he has seven children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Some have worked in the US and Africa. His extended family is settled in various places in India. They visit him once in a while.
The couple live with one of their sons at a rented house. His message? Age is no barrier to hard work and self-reliance.