It’s been 23 days today.
I have seen an expired visa hold back life, more cruelly, death. Today, when I wish more than anything for some help, I silently wish even more that Haridas had had some documents. It perhaps wouldn’t have been so hard then.
Bhaskaran Haridas was a highly reputed photographer. Like any man with dreams, he wanted to make it big, quite late though. In 2013, 62-year-old, Haridas who lived in the Mabela region of Oman with his family wanted to set up his own studio. Guided by prospects to come, he gathered all his earnings, savings and life into a new studio. He was however unmindful of the medical certificate he would have to present to continue running a studio in this part of the world. His age wasn’t as young as his dreams and posed problems in obtaining the certificate. He further couldn’t renew his visa and that of his wife and son. Little would the family have known then, the snarls of being without the papers. 2013 was yet to get crueler. Nothing would ever be the same again after the man suffered his first stroke, later in the year. Treatment blew little strength into the old man and he won over the stroke, deteriorated and depending on his wife.
Mohana had been living in Oman with her husband for many a years now. Her education became the thread they clung on when Haridas left hospital with fading strength. She held a postgraduate and an additional degree to teach in schools. For then, the family depended solely on the income she made giving tuitions to children of some families known to them. It would have been possible for the family to return to India had they possessed property or savings they could depend on back home. Unfortunately for them, they did not have any. They struggled through the rough times and made ends meets even at times it got really hard. Soon, his health condition started staggering down hill and he spent most of his time on bed than out of it.
15 April 2015, Wednesday. Mohana came back home to find the ‘kanji‘ she made her husband for lunch laying on the table turned cold. She immediately knew something was wrong. Her calls of “Chetta” were unanswered. For each day she left home in the morning, she mutely carried the fear of coming back home to this silence. She entered the bedroom to find him left with little consciousness. Gathering courage from her steadfast belief In God, she fed him kanji and prayed by him all night. In her frantic efforts to help her husband who was soon falling into the state of zero consciousness, she called up a doctor friend. As he worked quite far from the where the family stayed, he asked her to take him to a hospital nearby. It is from this hospital, the doctor called me for assistance. By the time, my volunteers reached there, he had fallen into unconsciousness.
From here on, I have seen this man battling between the heavy breathing of life and inaudible cries of death, every day. I have seen Mohana cry in the corridors of the hospital, everyday. I have seen 14 year old, Nayana Krishna Das, the young boy the couple had late into their marriage, stare blankly at most times and cry uncontrollably by his mother on others, everyday. I have seen the cruel indifference of most hospitals in Oman, everyday. I have seen the sheer negligence of the Indian Embassy in Oman, everyday.
I realised that day more than ever that nothing mattered more than having the right documents whilst living in this country. For if you are undocumented, not only are you not allowed to live here, you are not even allowed succumb to sickness, have it treated or cry for help.
I had by then contacted most hospitals and doctors I knew. I kept hope till a close friend who ran a hospital politely told me the truth. They could not accept such a patient. He was certainly high risk with stroke, but posed a higher risk for them for he did not have the right papers. I had contacted friends who worked in government hospitals. That was perhaps the only place where such a patient would be taken in, however, given that somebody would take guarantee for payment. Someone had by then even suggested an option to leave him outside the doors of the government hospital. How could one leave a man in such a state in a dwindling hope of being picked up by the authorities at the hospital?
We hadn’t been able to find a place that would admit this patient by Thursday. All queries were met with the negative. Friday dawned. Mohana made mention of a doctor who worked in a leading hospital. Suddenly it struck me that the lady CEO of this hospital was a friend. I was quite hesitant to contact her, it being early on a Friday morning when most people sleep till late. However, I sent her a text and within seconds, came the reply,“Jabirka go to the hospital and let the neuro-surgeon see him”. That was the first moment of relief in two days. My volunteers were already at his place, 40 kms from the hospital. We had found him a hospital bed. Now what we needed to do was get him there.
Operation Ambulance. How tough could that be? After all don’t we all know that the first call in case of a medical emergency is made for an ambulance? We thought the same too till we made the first call to the nearest hospital that had two ambulances. But, wait, should we have not known that it is a Friday and hospitals don’t expect emergencies on this day. They had both the ambulances parked there, yet they did not have the driver, came the response. It was crazy we asked for an ambulance early on a Friday morning, murmured the person in charge.
Time was short. Call 999. They would come. Of course, even if nobody else did, they would. It was a bigger NO. They were not in the least reluctant to tell us to contact a private hospital. The hospital we were taking him to could also not provide us with an ambulance because that was not how it was usually done there.
“Stretch the front seat of Iqbal’s pick up”, said Rajeev. ”We can’t wait longer. They dragged unconscious Haridas onto the make believe ambulance facility we managed to create and sped to the hospital. Thinking of it now, I understand the ambulance runs less on emergency and more on convenience.
Even today, when very few care, our hopes in hospitals are restored because of some doctors like Dr. Shiva Kumar, the neuro- surgeon who came in to the emergency to see the patient in spite of it being a Friday morning and further knowing this man that lay in front of him was a destitute. After a series of scanning, x-rays and further check ups, the doctor was able to tell us that the patient has also had a heart attack. He was very clear when he mentioned that the chances of survival are very rare and there is hardly a chance he would make it beyond 48 hours.
It’s been 504 hours as of the time I write this. 21 days. Haridas still clings on to life, now in a ventilator, extremely critical. The hospital calls me every alternate day. “Sir the bill has reached RO 500, 1000, 1500…” As of today it stands at RO4500. We have been able to pay an advance of RO 250 contributed by colleagues at the Kerala Wing, further RO 1000 paid by the Charity Wing of the Indian Social Club. There have been very kind contributions by a few amazing individuals.
In all these days, I have written quite a few numbers of times to the Indian Embassy. I have been pleading for some help from their side to help in arranging an inspection by the officials at the Ministry of Manpower so that Haridas can be airlifted at the earliest. The Embassy hasn’t sent an official till date. The ventilator continues to breathe on behalf of Haridas.
“I’m afraid he will continue to remain in this vegetable state for long”, remarked the doctor, last day.
I do not know what will happen to him tomorrow. I do not know how I can be able to provide the family with the least amount of justice. I do not know how to put across to Mohana that he will have to be cremated here, incase life ceases to breathe in him. I do not know how to ease the pain of the shattered family.
Yet, I know, this is the life of a destitute.
As narrated by my dad, PM Jabir.