Bhai Trilochan Singh Panesar
Tea stalls selling ‘Chai’ a spiced and sweetened milk tea open first and after my two cups while watching the city rise an austere gentleman with a white turban and a grey sweater vest over a collared and pressed button up dress shirt sat calmly on the sidewalk postured against the iron security awnings of the Old City of Delhi lathering clean bandages with an orange sticky putty. A different demeanor along with a generally higher level of hygiene than others beside him it was quickly apparent that his simple task was just the beginning of what was to come. Within minutes two, three and then five more, professionals of medicine and compassion saddled up next to the white turban in an assembly line as patients began to hobble and crawl to the clinic that appeared from the graces of the volunteers. Right down on the street that is not up to code not only for medical care but also for the back gate of the satiation yard in the first world, the care begins diligently and patients are expedited right through the brigade.
Each morning the patients line up as the duffle bags unpack basic supplies of iodine, gauze, antibiotics, etc. and a homemade herbal goop. Each wound is treated individually based on the condition. Burns receive different bandages to help the new skin to regenerate, maggots are bated out with sugar and then killed with turpentine, leprosy is not shunned away and puss is squeezed out right on the street. All are welcome and all is free. Each person in line receives an antibiotic injection and a bag of pills to take the next few days to prevent further infections.

All good gardens start with good seeds and lots of pulling weeds, and so this story also starts with a good seed, Bhai Trilochan Singh Panesar. He is also known as Veerji or ‘elder brother.’ It soon becomes clear that this amazing display of humanity on the street is just the beginning. I ask the older gentleman in the white turban if I could shoot a couple of photos and with a pleasant smile he nods and then motions to a tall bearded and red turbaned gentleman approaching whom it was later brought to my attention that it was Premjit Singh Panesar the eldest son of Veerji. It was his other son Dr. Kamaljeet or Sanju who had directed my attention to his elder brother whom both had inherited their good nature from their father’s teachings. Premjit is happy to share his father mission with me and explain not only the clinic but also the massive food program. Pointing down the main drag in Old Delhi, the Chandi Chowk drive leading to the historical Red Fort monument, there was a line of crouching men in an orderly row extending out into the smog and smoldering fires as far as could be seen in the now bustling streets of Old Delhi.
Once these streets where the bazaars and bars for the elite. The neighborhood was originally built by Shah Jahan’s wife. The Taj Mahal, was built by Shah Jahan along with enough palaces and architectural marvels to plunge the Empire into debt. But today these streets are less full of Mughal princelings and have become a temporary residence for those seeking better fortunes than the mustard seed fields and basmati rice patties have to offer. The growing economy has given the squeeze to the fringes of India and they find themselves looking for a couple extra pennies in the city. But more days than not, there is no work and that means a hot meal in the soup line.
Twenty paces beyond the street clinic the first of the mornings migrant men take their spot. A donated wagon that used to be an ambulance still bearing the red cross insignia pulls up sticking its rear taillight just enough out in the street to give Veerji’s volunteers a little more room to work. After dressing wounds the clinic shifts priorities from less urgent wounds to a vastly larger audience and a more telling story of the general conditions of modern India, feeding its people. The rear doors swing open wide to either side with litterally a ton of food and the line of hungry men crouches with anticipation, yet not one stands to approach the curry cart.