By Taniya Dutta
A Pakistani man is forced to beg on the streets as no one gives him work because of his massive legs that weigh two stones each.
Muhammad Saleem, 53, is known as the ‘Elephant Man’ in Sikandar Goth in Karachi where he has been begging since 1990.
Muhammad suffers from Elephantiasis- a parasitic infection that has painfully caused both his legs to balloon 15 kilograms each.
His feet have grown to a gigantic 23 cm and toes are 18 cm big.
Because of the enormous weight and size of his legs, Saleem is compelled to live an immobile life.
He cannot stand for more than a minute and has to take wife Zainab Bibi’s support for walking and climbing stairs of his one-room rented house.
With no work and money for treatment, the father of four is forced to depend on the alms to make ends meet.
Saleem says: “My legs are so heavy I gasp for breath while trying to move them.
“I cannot stand for more than two minutes at one place. Walking is nothing short of a task for me either. I drag my feet and walk like a baby and have to wait to rest after every 5-10 minutes of walk.
“It has been more than 20 years that I have walked freely. There is nothing I can do on my own. I have not worn shoes in ages.”
Saleem has had the condition since birth. It was passed onto him by his mother.
But it was only after he attained puberty that his condition started deteriorating.
He said: “My legs were always bigger than usual. My other eight siblings had normal legs. My mother also had big legs but not as big as mine.
“Despite the slight difficulties I could walk, run and play easily with other children. I had a very normal childhood.
“However, by the time I turned 15, my legs started swelling abnormally. Within a few months they became so huge that I could not even lift them on my own.”
Saleem’s father Maher Khan consulted doctors but was shocked when medics told him the only way to save his teenager son’s life is to amputate his legs.
Maher Khan, however, refused to let doctors cut his son’s legs, instead brought him home and started giving him local medicines.
Saleem said: ” I was running, playing and living a normal life and all of a sudden I was bed-ridden for a week. My legs were so big I was scared of them.
“I was at a hospital waiting for the test results hoping for a miracle.
“But doctors told my father that I have Elephantiasis and that there is no cure available.
“They said the only way to stop infection from spreading is by amputating my legs. But my father refused to cut my legs.”
Saleem says he has no regrets of his father’s decision as he still has legs and can walk even though with much difficulty.
He said: “I am thankful to him and Allah that he took the right decision. Although my legs cause me problems and pain but I still have legs to walk on my own.”
Without advanced treatment Saleem’s legs started growing bigger and bigger, restricting his movements. To have a normal life, his father gave him work at his milk shop.
But after father’s death, Saleem closed the shop because of the high monthly rent. He came to Karachi with a friend to work at a textile factory.
For few months, Saleem worked smoothly but the pressure of working at a cloth factory had stared showing on his legs that gave up the strength.
Doctors advised him to be hospitalised for three months. When he was back, Saleem had lost his job and could never find another opportunity.
Saleem said: “I got married in these three months. When I returned I was told that I can no longer work there. I was desperately looking for an opportunity but no one was ready to give me work.
“I begged everyone requesting every person to let me work and not think that my legs were an impediment to my skills, but none agreed.
“Tired and dejected, I started begging on the roads to feed my family.”
For nearly two decades Saleem has been begging in Karachi.
On the days when he is lucky, he gets anywhere between 300-400 rupees in alms. He uses the money to buy medicines from a local faith healer in Rahim Yar Khan.
He says: “I have no money to see specialists. I cannot afford the expensive treatment and fees so I take medicines from hakim Sajid.
“It is not easy to live with these legs. They hurt a lot particularly in winters thankfully in Karachi it is no that cold.”
Despite all the struggles, Saleem still has hopes alive of walking freely like before. He wished for the government to come forward and help him with the treatment so he can lead a normal life.
He said: “I had never wanted to beg. I have always wanted to live life with dignity but God had other plans. I have still not lose hope.
“I miss the days I used to walk like any other boy in my village. I still hope that one day I will walk again.”