Shiva is the only name, which the warrior uses. Recalling his past, he says he was roughly 10 years old when he got to know that a group of policemen is offering to pay anyone, in return of searching bodies in the nearby pond.
As the Indian police are poorly trained and underfunded, many of them don’t know how to swim, this they rely on such services, where they don’t have to pay much, though the whole procedure is risky, the police continue to utilize it.
According to Shiva when he was ready to volunteer, the Police were shocked. “They initially refused saying I was too young. But I convinced them,” he recalls.
He did the job and walked away with 40 rupees, now worth nothing but a reasonable sum for him at that time.
Even after 20 years of the incident, Shiva, who is now a 30-year-old man is still assisting the police with the old work, as he resides next to the Hussain Sagar lake, situated in the heart of the city.
Lake used for the festive season to immerse Hindu idols in the water, is also a popular tourist spot after the idols are immersed deep inside the lake during the festivals, Shiva takes out the iron rods of the idol, as to resell it to the recyclers.
Being a popular tourist spot, the lake is also popular as a suicide point of the city, Shiva not only retrieves the body of the victims but also save lives, from attempting suicide.
“I‘ve lost count of how many bodies I have found. But I have saved 114 lives,” he notified the BBC.
Sometimes, he also helps them recover bodies from other rivers and lakes in the city.
Devoting his life for the welfare of the society he’s now training his wife to swim, so she can help obtain bodies of women.
According to the Police Inspector, B Dhanalakshmi, who’s placed at the police station near Hussain Sagar lake, admits that Shiva has been “a huge help” to them.
“I can’t confirm how many people he has saved over the years, but I believe it’s more than 100,” told the Inspector B Dhanalakshmi.
Suicide is still considered as a crime in India and numerous people that Shiva saves run away even before he can inform the police.
Reminiscing about his Shiva says that he didn’t know who his parents were and spent most of his childhood on the streets, with brief periods in orphanages.
He didn’t even remember when he started to live with a woman and her children who were also abandoned. He became close to them and it was one of her sons who acquainted him with swimming, an ability that altered the course of his life.
With a heavy heart, Shiva shared that he has lost a lot of friends over the years — due to addictions, disease, hunger and accidents.
The boy who tutored him to swim — “my brother Lakshman,” he calls him — accidentally drowned and another close friend disappeared while trying to recoup someone else.
With a pang of guilt, he says as he couldn’t protect them, he’s trying to make up for that by devoting his life for the service of others.
Saving lives buy him some extra money — occasionally people he recoups pay him as a token of their acknowledgement. And the media coverage earned him some roles in Telugu movies. But Shiva asserts that he doesn’t consider saving lives a career.
According to Shiva, people’s intentions for suicide, vary — from exam pressures to love affairs gone nasty to family disputes and financial griefs. Occasionally the elderly attempt to kill themselves when they are withdrawn by their kids.
Lately, as he recalls he witnessed a man jump into the lake, stressing that he might have contracted the coronavirus. The man’s companion then lunged in to recoup him, and Shiva too jumped in, but he was only able to recoup his companion.
He asserts that the dead man’s family members didn’t even take the body, due to the fear of corona infection, “So I cremated him,” he says. “I saved another man who said his family had begun to neglect him since they thought he had the virus.”
All of Shiva’s work comes at a cost — the lake ‘Hussain Sagar’ is immensely polluted and Shiva, who lunges into the water now and then with no equipment or suit, has cultivated skin rashes and caught other diseases, including a bout of typhoid.
“There is no time to put on any gear. You have to react fast. If you see someone jump, you have to jump right away”, explains Shiva.
The lake also stinks foul during the summer and snakes are generally found on its shores, but Shiva has no agendas to move on.
“I want to stay here,” he says. “Only if I stay here, I can save lives. The satisfaction of saving a life is supreme.”