It was the smell of rotting flesh that made me turn around. I hadn’t smelt human flesh before and prepared my mind to find the decaying body of a dead cat or rat. But my eyes were met with a sight that will probably never leave my mind in this lifetime. An old man, wrinkled by age and life sat staring into space with a large hole in his shin; big enough to fit two fists in it, sat on the ledge of platform no.4 of Shivajinagar bus station. The wound must have been a week old, the strong stench and fresh blood had attracted flies and worms to starting eating out of it. But the poor man’s stomach was empty. I had to sit down and digest the sight before me, before I could react.
I had seen misery. But this one I couldn’t walk away from. I looked around and saw two people who came and clicked pictures of him. What was he an item on show? I picked up a waste cloth and gave it to him asking him to cover his wound, offered him with food and then water when he put a weak hand to his mouth signaling me for some liquid. And then began my ordeal with…what shall I say? The system? Myself? The religious-god fearing-humanitarian-compassionate-intellectual society?
I called up close to five NGO’s claiming to help aged people but everybody washed their hands off with petty reasons, I called up Deccan Chronicle newspaper hoping they would be able to give me some helpline numbers but here was the receptionist’s response to my questions.
After explaining the situation, she listen and said “Sorry ma’am, we are not a helpline”
After I cleared her ‘misconception’, She told me “Sorry ma’am, its 8:30am and there is nobody in the office now. And I’m a receptionist and I can’t do anything.“
After asking her to search her human side and give me a number of someone who could help me out, she gave me the number of a reporter who ended up never picking up my calls.
After a few more calls to NGO’s I was given the number of a ‘humanitarian’ who responded to my call with a message that said “I’m in a meeting”. I explained the situation, saying this man needed serious medical care and she responded saying “sorry. I’m in a meeting” ; to which I asked her “since you and me are busy with meetings shall I leave the poor man to die?” . Then she said she would meet me in an hour at the spot. I let my stupid society-conditioned mind take over for a minute and it told me I’m late for college and can’t afford to lose attendance. I asked the man to stay put and left. I reached college restless and distressed. I need to cry. It came out when my teacher asked me why I was late. I realized I had to go back. I was ashamed of myself for leaving. I told her so and she said “Disease and old age are a part of life. But if you feel you must finish what you started then leave. Preferably take a friend along.”
Taking a kind friend along with me we waited at the bus station for another hour with this humanitarian not responding to my calls. She finally picked up and told me her meeting would go on till 2pm and she couldn’t get out. I felt hopeless.
I took to my last resort and dialed 100, the police. They came in 15mins later, sauntering in with an indifferent air; I approached them and instantly got scanned by their eyes before being rudely asked why they were called, like I had rudely woken them up from a wonderful little dream. After explaining the situation they seemed furious that I had called them. Before brushing me aside, they said “Madam if you are so kind why don’t you take him to the hospital yourself? This man is here every day and we don’t drive him away because he is old. Is this why you called us here? Isn’t there a college or school you have to be at right now?” Finishing their little speech they walked away to get some coffee, leaving me speechless. I sat down again fuming with rage and desperation. The police had been my last resort. They were supposed to be looking after their people. They were supposed to help the helpless. Instead they left people feeling even more helpless.
Finally a friend of mine who was helping me get more helping numbers urged me to try this one last helpline. It was a run by Nightingale Medical Trust along with the Bangalore police. It had been almost 3 hours since I had begun and this was my final call and I had hardly any hope left. They responded to my call by saying they would take care of it and inform the police and take action and I in the meantime could leave the scene. When I heard the word police the last sliver of hope I had also evaporated.
I put the phone down thanked my friend and sent her off, walked to the other end of the bus station to get away from the inquisitive police gaze and sat down with my hand in my head. How was I to go home and sleep? How was I to come back to this station and see the old man tomorrow? How was handle his gaze when he looked at me with pain? How was I to live with this guilt? Will I ever feel safe anywhere anymore? How was I going to be happy without being guilty anymore?
Trying to quieting my bickering head I walked back into the station to take a bus and leave. Suddenly I saw an ambulance in front of the man. There were two elderly men and two male nurses and the very ‘responsible’ police men standing around talking. A small crowd had gathered. I approached them claiming responsibility for the call and asking them what was going to happen. The elderly man representing the helpline told me they would take him to Bowring hospital. The old man suddenly came out of his state of numbness. He was put in the stretcher and as the responsible and dedicated men of society discussed a plan of action, we had a moment. The man folded his arms looked at me and began silently sobbing; his whole body shook with what seemed to me like relief. It looked to me like all the faith, hope and pain that had seeped out of his body due to forced acceptance of cruel reality was all over again suddenly flowing back into his veins in full force. I looked back at him folding my own hands, hot tears rolling down my own face and felt all the hope, faith and trust I had in me seep slowly out of my body.
After the ambulance left I turned to the policemen who had approached me, all of a sudden with this sudden found kindness and empathy to discuss what a pitiful situation it was, and I asked them “this is all you had to do sir, what was so hard about it?” and the uniformed men of safe keeping told me “We also feel very sad madam but we didn’t know what to do. You see madam he spoke Tamil and we couldn’t understand anything as we don’t speak Tamil.”
I’ll leave you to think about it. Before scoffing at the system, the police, the people who clicked the pictures (Who most definitely need to be scoffed at and questioned) let’s look at ourselves (Myself included) and see how many situations like these we have walked out of. And how many times we thought ourselves to be very compassionate when we sat down over a few drinks or coffee with friends or family and explained a horrific situation, telling them how bad we felt. Or the times we thought of ourselves very intellectual while debating over how screwed up our society and system is, concluding the debate by telling each other that this country won’t change.
The question is. Will you?