Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Even if a single man goes hungry, raged poet Bharathi, let us destroy the universe!

My train was late. I am upset. But not because the train was late. I wouldn't have cared if the train had been a day late if only.... I think it was a boy, perhaps a young man, a teenager. He may have been hiding from the Train Ticket Examiner in the toilet. In any event, he came out after an hour or so; right outside the TTE's seat, and fell on the floor with his face down. People thought perhaps he was faking it to escape the TTE. Or may be he was hungry. It was at the Viruthachalam Junction station and the train had just stopped. As usual there was a crowd milling around him to figure out what was going on. The TTEs were in another compartment. Someone called them. I was worried if he was sick with some contagious disease. I was worried if it was safe for that many people to be in close contact with him. And a lot of them were also from my own compartment and my seat was just four rows from him.
The train was supposed to halt for about a minute. But they held the train. It was after 7 PM and there was no doctor on duty at the station. Perhaps there was no doctor on the train according to the records. TTEs sent out folks calling for volunteer medical professionals who could help. The boy lifted his head after someone sprinkled water on his face. They wanted to know if he was starving and wanted to eat. He said no. They thought he was a Marathi. Another person went out looking for a Marathi speaker.
Finally someone from the train, a doctor, volunteered to look at him. The train was really late. The doctor came. By the time he came the pulse was feeble. He asked for an ambulance. The duty station master and the railway police called for an ambulance. It took them a while to come. Viruthachalam is a small town. They took the boy away. The train finally left the station. It was late by about an hour.
I was worried. I connected to the internet to see how late it will be to reach my station. I worried about the possibility of a contagious disease. I worried about the procedure in handling an emergency in railways. The Indian railways site said the train would be only 47 minutes late to reach my station. I didn't mind ... if only they were able to save that boy.
Before we reached the next station, the TTEs got a message from the station master of Viruthachalam. The boy died on the way to the hospital.
We were in the middle of an animated discussion among the train passengers on politics, election, environment, labor and pollution. When we heard that the boy had died, I was speechless. He was too young to die. What dreams he must have had, his parents may have had. May be he was a low class laborer. But in a country where a chaiwalla can become a prime minister, what was there to stop him. But now those dreams had vanished.
But what killed him? I was curious. Did he die of a contagious disease? Are we at risk? I went to the TTE to ask. Perhaps the TTEs thought I looked like a responsible person and not a busybody trolling for gossip. They told me that they had spoken with the boy when he was alive.
Apparently he spoke some Tamil. He was a north Indian. But he said, in Tamil, that he was an anaathai, an orphan. He added that he had kidney trouble. He had a scar on his body, indicating a recent surgery. The TTE couldn't stop talking about how fair skinned and handsome the boy was. May be was a runaway. May be he was an orphan. May be he was a laborer. But now he is dead. The TTEs had an instruction to look for abandoned bags in the train that may contain some identification. There were none on his person. No wallet, no ID, no ticket, nothing. He was clean of any possessions. They didn't know his name. Nor could they notify any relatives. He died alone and remained anonymous. I was aghast.
That was really strange I thought. Was he a victim of a crime? Did someone steal a kidney from him and left him to die on the train? I am determined to write to the authorities not to dismiss this as a death by natural causes. If there are criminals behind this death, they ought to be caught. Otherwise, they will be still roaming around looking for the next victim.
And what about the industries that thrive on child labor? And those immigrants who cannot speak Tamil and have no relatives or service organizations to worry about them?
And why can't the railways have a doctor in each junction at least? Or like the TTE said, have agreements with the private hospitals or the government hospitals to provide emergency care. There ought to be at least first aid care and paramedics at each station. If they had taken the boy to an emergency care within 30 minutes, they may have been able to save him.
Millions of people travel by the trains in India. The tickets are dirt cheap. They could increase the price of the ticket to pay for this service. It will be worth it.

By sharing this painful experience I am hoping that we will be thinking about what to do in an emergency like this.  I can only think about what might have happened in an American train had I witnessed a similar incident there.  While they may have gotten overboard and brought in a flying emergency room in a helicopter, they would have done everything to save a life - even that of a homeless person. I don't see why India cannot handle emergencies on a train even if the Indian railways handle millions of passengers every day. Because of sheer size of Indian population, we tend to see such deaths as mere statistics and not something that happens to real people unless we knew them personally.  They are no longer shocking.  We have become immune to such things, like the street beggars or the homeless on the Indian street or the transgenders begging in a train.

But I didn't want this boy to go unmourned, even if we don't know his name.  I still cannot forget the boy's face. Oh my, he was so young. Life is so fickle. May he rest in peace. At least now. 
frown உணர்ச்சிலை