Patients attending the clinic yesterday at the 90 foot road in L ward of Bombay came with a variety of complaints. One woman probably had malaria and looked sick. A man with hypertension and heart disease; one with chemical dermatitis due to working with paint; several with skin infections. All of them looked tired and were thin, most wore clothes blackened by the grease and dirt at their workplace, most had calloused hands and grimy fingernails. But Vishal (name changed) looked unlike the others. Fresh-faced, very young, clean, he had come to Bombay from Bahraich district in Uttar Pradesh 2 months ago after his 12th standard examinations to join his brother in the Kajupada slum, to earn Rs.7000 a month for working 12 hours a day and sometimes longer.
I asked him why he left his studies and came here, and also why for such a low wage. He looked at me in silence for a few seconds, and then said his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer and needed weekly injections (chemotherapy, perhaps), each of which cost them Rs. 10,000. There was, simply put, no Government facility nearby where they could access free cancer treatment, so they had to travel over 300 km to the Kamala Nehru Trust Hospital in Allahabad for treatment. There was no money, so Vishal had to stop thinking of applying for college, and travel to Bombay to earn what he could to pay for the treatment, along with his brother.
The cancer is disseminated, he told me - his mother had not told anyone about it till the festering wound became too much to conceal.
I explained as gently as I could that for someone to survive disseminated breast cancer is not easy. And told him that whatever happens, he must try and go back to studying as soon as he can.
I wonder if he will ever be able to.
Last night, traveling home from the airport in Bhopal, I asked the driver, a young man, where he was from. He had come to Bhopal three months ago from Ashoknagar where he had been with a travel agency for three years. The owner had eleven cars. When I asked why the move, he said he had had a quarrel with the owner. I did not ask anything more, but then Sushil (name changed) told me what had happened. He had not been paid for two months, he said and when he had asked for his wages, the owner had laughed and said he did not need the money urgently as he was not married.
I kept begging him for two months, said Sushil - I had my rent to pay, I had to eat, I was supporting my family. When he did not pay me for the third month, I was very angry . When I was driving him somewhere, I stopped the car, pulled him out, and hit him. I hit him with a stone on his head, then with a stick on his back, then I ran away.
How is the owner now? I asked after a few minutes.
He got up and drove himself home, and lodged a police complaint. I had to go to Ashoknagar two days ago to appear in court. I explained to the judge what had happened, and the judge said I should have lodged a complaint, not beaten the owner. The next hearing is six weeks from now.
I told him the same thing- that beating up someone is not the answer, that next time he loses his temper he may kill someone and that will land him in jail.
Sushil told me he is from Rewa district, his father was a contract labourer for the railways and died suddenly of a heart attack some years ago. He is the oldest and has to provide for the family. From his wage of Rs. 10,000 a month in Rewa he had to support his mother and siblings. When he was not paid, he had to beg the owner of the rented room where he stayed, not to throw him out. He felt ashamed to do this, as well as for the fact that he was not able to send money home. He himself ate once in three days, and survived on cups of tea in between.
Now in Bhopal he earns Rs. 12,000 a month as a driver, and has taken a one-bedroom flat on rent in a multi (Government built multi-storied houses). The multis have a parking space where he and 12 other drivers keep their cars at night and the colony has a security guard arrangement, so the cars are safe. He is delighted with the running water and electricity, though he has to spend Rs. 2500 on rent each month. His home is open to anyone who comes to Bhopal from Rewa for Government work or looking for a job.
Why should they spend money on staying at a hotel when they can ill-afford it? he asked. I can help them this way. At present he has a family of four from Rewa staying in his flat - The woman has a preterm baby (7 months) and they have come to Bhopal for the child's treatment. They need to be here for at least 2 weeks, and I have given them the key to my flat - they can come and go as they please, and cook their own food.
Would you judge this young man?