A newborn’s cries pierce the silence, and as they grow more shrill and louder, Ramjeet Raghav wakes up to console the baby. Scooping up one-month-old Ranjeet, the 96-year-old gently rocks him until the baby calms down and falls asleep. Anyone watching grey-haired Ramjeet would think he was a doting great-grandfather babysitting the latest addition to his extended family. But the nonagenarian is the world’s oldest dad and is happy to care for his second son in his little one-room house in the Kharkhoda village of the Sonipat district in Haryana, Northern India.
The farm hand says he’s blessed to have a family so late in his life and is enjoying all the attention it has garnered.
Ramjeet and his wife Shakuntala, who says she is 60, first made headlines in 2010 when they had their first son, Vikramjeet. At the time he said, “This child is God’s gift to me.”
Now, with the birth of Ranjeet, on October 5, the strict vegetarian and teetotaller grins, “We had been planning for another baby and it’s a blessing to have one. I am enjoying fatherhood at this age. It’s good I have another son now. If, God forbid, one of them dies, I will have a male child to carry on my family name.”
With his age recorded in the Haryana government’s social department as 96, Ramjeet puts his virility down to his diet.
“I drink a lot of cow’s milk and include a lot of almonds in my diet,’’ he says, adding that being a wrestler in his younger days helped keep him fit.
“Physically, I am still very capable of having more babies,” he says. “I could carry on having them if I had the money. But I want my boys to go to school and study. I will do my best to give them what they need in life.
“I feel very lucky to have two healthy sons.It’s going to be tough and we most definitely cannot afford any more children... I am a happy man.’’ But he’s grateful that he won’t have to splash out on a daughter as he’s struggling to raise his family on his small salary.
“I’m glad we’ve had another son – a daughter would have been a worry,” he admits. “I just couldn’t pay for a wedding and the dowry if we’d had a girl.’’
Energetic for his age, every morning Ramjeet wakes up at 5am, has a quick breakfast of a bowl of cow’s milk, fresh green vegetables and chappatis. He then checks on his sleeping boys before setting off to work on a nearby farm. He breaks for lunch at home around 1pm after which he takes a two-hour nap.
After finishing work at 6pm, he helps his wife look after the boys. Although his eldest son is still a toddler and Ranjeet is a newborn, Ramjeet is already thinking of the future.
He says, “I have asked my wife to undergo sterilisation. I don’t want any more children; we just can’t risk it, we can’t afford it.
“And I can’t have surgery because it would mean not being able to work in the field for a few weeks and I need to work and provide for the family.”
Penniless and helpless
Ramjeet met his wife Shakuntala in 2007. He was widowed twice, both of his wives died young and childless. She had been abandoned by her husband, who left her for another woman in 2000, devastatingly taking their ten-year-old son with him. Shakuntala was penniless, and with no family to support her she felt helpless.
“I was all alone. I was devastated and didn’t want to live without my son,’’ she said. She scoured villages and towns searching for him but without luck. It was during her wanderings that she landed up in Sonipat, a nondescript town in Haryana’s Sonipat district. Tired, she was resting near a shrine when Ramjeet spotted her and they began talking.
“Ramjeet brightened up my day. He was old enough to be my dad but I didn’t care,” she smiles. “He was like a breath of fresh air.’’
That same evening Ramjeet invited Shakuntala for dinner at his house. “It was clear that she didn’t have any family or friends around and I wanted to help her,’’ he explains.
He took her under his wing “and taught her some yoga and we fell in love... and then I asked Shakuntala to be my wife,’’ he says.
She looks at her husband adoringly. “I know it’s quick, but in our culture it’s pretty normal and so I said ‘yes’ when he proposed,’’ she says. “I hadn’t met anyone so caring in a long time. He made me feel very special.’’
She is convinced that if Ramjeet had not come along she would have been dead by now. “He was very funny and confident and I wanted someone to look after me so much,’’ she says. Within weeks the couple were married.
A year later, Shakuntala became pregnant, but she sadly miscarried. Then in November 2010, little Vikramjeet was born.
“As soon as our son was delivered Ramjeet kissed him all over,’’ she recalls. “His previous two wives had died young so he’d never had the chance to be a father. I was happy I had given him a son.’’
During Vikramjeet’s first year, life was very difficult for the new parents. Ramjeet tried to balance work digging the fields for nine hours a day earning Rs3,000 (Dh203) a month, while also helping his wife care for their new son.
For a while they both insisted they would not have any more children because being a parent was a lot harder than they had thought but they changed their minds. In March this year, Ramjeet suspected his wife was pregnant again. “I just knew it so I encouraged her to see a doctor. When he confirmed it, I was very happy,’’ he says. Despite her age, her pregnancy was trouble free.
Shakuntala went into labour on the morning of October 5. She was still at home when the pains began, so Ramjeet quickly rushed off to borrow a cycle rickshaw to take her to hospital.
They arrived at the local Kharkhoda Government Hospital at 8am and little Ranjeet was born at 6pm that evening. Ramjeet admits that some of the doctors in the hospital where his wife delivered burst out laughing when he told them he was the baby’s father. “But that did not concern me. I was so happy to have another child,’’ he says.
By 11pm that night the family were discharged and were back home.
Despite his age, the world’s oldest dad appears to have a good memory. He even remembers several incidents that occurred during the post-Partition riots in 1947.
Originally an inhabitant of a village called Begpur in Uttar Pradesh, he says he left home about 40 years ago following a family dispute. He found a job as a farm hand in Sonipat in neighbouring Haryana state before moving to Kharkhoda village where he has been living and working on a farm for the past 22 years.
Shakuntala says, “I thought I wanted a big family, but not any more. Two children is enough and now we want to be able to give our sons everything we didn’t have.
“I love being a mother. But I still think of my first son, I wish I could still see him, he’d be grown up by now. But Ramjeet gives me all I need. He may be 96 but he’s everything to me.
I am a very happy woman, mother and wife.’’
Ramjeet is proud that he’s become a minor celebrity in India and is even famous internationally.
“People from all over the world came to know about me and my family after my first son was born” he says. “Now they’ll be shocked at my second son. People will want to come and see me all over again. I can most definitely say my sons are lucky for me.’’
Until Vikramjeet was born, Nanu Ram Jogi from India was the world’s oldest father after his 21st child was born in 2007 when he was 90.