Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jhamelaa

A labyrinth (maze)Image via Wikipedia
First up, let me state this frankly and clearly. In the past, I have avoided helping road accident victims. Many times. Because of the supposed 'jhamelaa' (complications). The normal excuses that people give like "The police will instead harass you for bringing in the victims about what you were doing there!" or "The hospital won't admit the injured victims in and they will die in front of your eyes outside the hospital entrance." were good enough for me to not get involved in any rescue operations.
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What I never did and never will do though is to hang around the scene of an accident, especially one in which the victims look critically injured without any purpose. It is surprising how many people actually do that in our country where the ambulance always takes too long a time to show up (due to a million reasons not under the control of the ambulance service) and the best chance for saving lives is to get them to the hospital in time somehow through personal initiative. If I cannot be of help, I move on so that someone who actually wants to help can do his/her job.
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On Wednesday evening, the day for Saraswati Puja here in Bengal, as I was making my way back home after work, on the narrow Beliaghata bypass road bordering the canal, I saw what I hated to see once more. Two guys sprawled in the middle of the road, heads split open, blood spurting out of their major head injuries and a huge crowd gathered around them. My first reaction was to thread my motorcycle through the people and go ahead ignoring the commotion, but this looked like something which had happened half a minute ago. I pulled over on the side and I still don't know why because this wasn't how I had behaved in similar scenarios before.
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Enquiries revealed that a speeding Ambassador car had knocked down the pair from their motorcycle, and then the car had fled from the scene. Needless to say, neither the car nor the motorcycle were driving at civilized speeds and the youngsters aboard the bike were wilfully ignorant of the rule that a helmet should be worn at all times while riding. People were standing around passing judgements "Should've worn helmets!", "I shouted at them to go slow just 200 m before. Now look!" or "The first one will definitely not make it. Look at the blood he is losing right now. He's gone!"
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I asked if anyone had called the police or an ambulance yet. No one had. I called the police emergency helpline 100 from my cell. Guess what? It was busy! And so it remained for the next 10 attempts I made. I asked of the locals if there were any government hospitals with emergency wards in the vicinity. Private hospitals have a even worse reputation when it comes to acceptance of accident victims for treatment so government is the way to go. I got a name, the Neel Ratan Sarkar hospital next to Sealdah station but no one had their emergency number. I finally got through to the police and gave them the location of the incident via consultation with the locals, and they said that they were sending help right away.
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The minutes were passing by and there was no sign of the police or ambulance. The pool of blood around the prone bodies was horrifyingly large now. Some kind soul was splashing water on their faces but that was about it. People were angry in a directionless kind of way and were diverting traffic away from the narrow side street we were on. I once again asked the people milling around the victims, "Is there no doctor around? Is there any way we can get these people to the hospital ourselves?" Back came the aggressive reply "Don't you know how much trouble you can get into with the police in simple cases like this. Lots of trouble. Who will take the risk? Will you?"
And I said yes. To their credit, within a minute or so they found a Tata Ace mini tempo whose driver volunteered to help get the injured to the hospital. Bear in mind, all private vehicles had made sharp U-turns when the same request to assist was made to them. The injured were placed in the cargo hold but no one, absolutely no one from the waiting crowd wanted to accompany me to the hospital. I was asked to sit beside the driver and we set off for the hospital, with two critically injured persons just lying in the open hold like transported goods. It wasn't the best way to proceed but our options were limited and it certainly didn't feel nice as we headed towards the Sealdah hospital on a bumpy road. Half way there, we came across a lumbering police van making its way towards the scene of the accident and they asked us to move on towards the hospital.
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I was really tense now as I madly waved a red rag out of the window, the universal signal for an emergency, so that traffic cops would let our vehicle pass. How crudely would the police and hospital react? So were the tempo driver and his assistant. The driver said, "I am a poor man who drives this vehicle for someone else. I hope I don't get into trouble for trying to help." As we drove into the premises of the hospital and reached the emergency ward, we were on tenterhooks. Then came the real anti-climax when I ran into the entrance and explained the situation. The police inside the emergency ward were prompt in their response and the hospital staff even more so. True, they were one stretcher attendant short at that point of time and I had to assist to get the more critically injured person to the Operation Theatre (OT), but the doctors were buzzing around and doing their best. The cops were not interfering in any way and waited till both the victims were wheeled into the OT before asking me the basic questions of where, when, and how.
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The cops asked me the questions in as polite a manner as I have ever heard anyone speak, thanked me for not giving in to stories about their corrupt & rude 'behaviour' and said I could leave if I wanted to. The victim's family was being contacted by personnel from the nearest police station, they told me. All those stories about how victims were refused treatment and how their rescuers were prosecuted may have some basis in truth, but we as a people are so bogged down by preconceived notions of 'jhamelaa'. This is the 'kalyug' (Dark age) some people say and so we must weigh all the possible 'jhamelaas' before we even think of doing what is right. 
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The injured persons were still conscious and moaning in pain when they went into the OT, something which surprised me considering the massive amounts of blood they both had lost. The human body is a resilient machine and it fights till the very last. I do not know if they lived to see the next day. God willing, their lives may have been saved but at least I think I did what I could to the best of my limited abilities to give them a chance. What I do know is that I ride a motorcycle to work everyday and I wouldn't want to bleed to death on a side street while a couple of hundred people stood watching the 'tamashaa' (spectacle), just because they want to avoid the 'jhamelaa'. 
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All said and done, India is a country with imperfect systems and we have very little or no faith in them. We blindly assume that since the systems are bad, the people in it must be equally rotten too. When we have faith, hope and the will to make things better and operate under the assumption that people are basically good, the first 999 times out of 1000, the experience is likely to turn out to be bitter. It is an almighty struggle to maintain that belief in most situations we find ourselves in, but nothing is more important. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" may sound like a ridiculous cliche which is all too frequently disproven, but it forms the primary basis of how we as a species have survived thus far. If you don't trust your fellow man to behave as you would and be helpful, you are basically stating that you don't trust yourself to able to be useful. And that is a very sad state to be in. 

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7 comments:

Kunnu said...

I would have done the same. Though, I have not been in these situations before..but, I have no second thoughts as to what I would have done! Very recently, my dad met with a very serious accident, and he is recovering fine and escaped with no permanent or serious injuries, due to prompt help by the locals. I can not thank them enough..

Not getting involved in the jhamela, is just a notion, and to try to rise above it..is always that we should do..even if we have failed every time before!

Are they well?
Have you checked on them?

Vishal Jain said...

Dude You rock, looking at the circumstances it was not possible for anyone to pitch in. But you did what 999 out of 1000 would not do.
We cry when we see suffering of ours but we do not even care to give our hand when some unknown suffer. Great work roy, no words are enough to appreciate your act.

Achilees said...

Good job. Good job.

Roy said...

@Kunnu: I got them to the doctor and the police contacted their relatives. My role was over. One of them looked to be in a very serious condition and I don't think I'd be able to take the stress if something worse happened. I hope for the best but no, I haven't checked on them. The police have my cell number and address, and since they haven't called, I am praying that this is a good sign.

Roy said...

@Vishal: I have been amongst those 999 people in similar situations at least 2-3 times before so this occasion was just one attempt to reduce my guilt. There is nothing to be proud of but more a matter of shame for me when I think of those other occasions when I chose not to help. All I can say after this experience is that if you really want to help, excuses don't work and once you set about doing what is right, the other factors fall into place.

prateek said...

'All I can say after this experience is that if you really want to help, excuses don't work and once you set about doing what is right, the other factors fall into place.'

Well said and well done, sir.

Roy said...

@Prateek: Thanks! I tried to help and to be frank, this was the first time I could muster the guts to try. One of the victims actually passed away 3 days after the accident. His family members had called me and I really didn't know what to say. Guess I wasn't fast enough to get help...