Saturday, January 24, 2015

" PLIGHT" for sale

It was over the phone, I spoke to her for the first time. She was an organ recipient. I was doing a story on the plight of patients post organ transplant. Hers was one such story.

She was 52.  When her father died of cancer, her mother had just conceived her. A few years later, her mother too succumbed to that grave disease.  She married late. A few years after, she started developing rashes all over her body. She was taken to many doctors who said she had psoriasis. She took several medication for that. Later her body started swelling and it was then the doctors came to a conclusion that she was not suffering from psoriasis but renal failure. She underwent dialysis in a private hospital in Kochi. Since it was not done hygienically she contracted Hepatitis. As kidney transplant is the last word for her disease, she decided to do it and she mortgaged her property for Rs 10 lakhs for it. 

The story did not end there. Every month, she had to pay Rs 10,000 for her medication which has to be taken life – long. She had to pay Rs 12,000 towards her loan. On the top of it, her husband suffered cardiac arrest and had to undergo angioplasty. 

I did not ask a single question to her. I heard her uninterruptedly. Tears were streaming down from my eyes. This short conversation had a deep impact on me.  Every night, before I go to sleep, I started praying. I counted my blessings. This was a habit which I had lost for several years. I could not help her, financially. The only way to help her was to write about the woes of people like her. And I was happy, when she was one among the organ recipients who would get some money which was raised by some college students. 

The story did not end here too. After a few months, I got a call from her. She was in panic. She had applied for a job in an employment exchange as a part time sweeper . Unfortunately, there was technical problem pertaining to her age. But it could have been resolved by the employment exchange officer. And she wanted me to help her. I asked her whether she could do the job of a sweeper due to her health. She said “ I am ready to do any job. Besides, this is a government job and I could get pension. The bank will confiscate my property soon since I had failed to pay the loan. If I did not get this job, I do not have any other option but suicide.” 

I assured her that I would help her . After all, what is the use of those contacts  which could not be used for needy people like her. Honestly, I left no stones unturned to help. But the technical problem which I mentioned earlier could not be solved that easily. But I could get assurance from the higher ups that they would find her a job in private sector by which she could support her family. Earlier, she was not even ready to listen to such a proposal when I mentioned it.

I was a bit worried about her reaction. But she did not fret and fume as she used to do earlier. There was no talk of suicide.  I thought she might have come into terms with it.

Just a week later, there was a conference of organ recipients. I went there to cover the programme. Till that day, I did not see her in person. When I called her and told that I was there, she came to see me. I was taken aback by what I saw. Contrary to all my thoughts, she did not look like a haggard woman who had no anchor. She was wearing a thick gold chain. There were four golden rings on her fingers. She was wearing a churidhar  that would atleast cost Rs 1000 to Rs 1500. I looked at her legs. Because she used to tell me that she had swollen legs as she was constantly pushed around. Much to my dismay, I saw  her legs in high heeled. 

I was expecting a 52 year old woman who is worn out and wearing a hijab, since she was a Muslim.  I know that there is no prerequisite that a woman from a poor financial back ground should not dress properly.   Or she might be wearing artificial jewellery. But that day she did not dress like a woman who was worn out with financially. I tried to convince myself that I might be misinterpreting her. But whatever I did, there was a strong voice from within me was shouting out “ Shalet, you are cheated.” 

The organ recipients have a organisation and its head, another recipient told me that she definitely had problems. But that was manageable. But she would not leave anybody vulnerable to her panic and tantrums. Maybe, I was one among them. Sigh*****

Friday, January 2, 2015

Elephants and Thankappan

Journalism gives ample opportunities to meet lots of 'real' people and their issues. There are some faces which you do not forget even if you come across many faces in your life. It might be because those faces tell real stories. Thankappan Chettan ( 'Chettan' in Malayalam means 'brother') is one among such faces.

He has braved several encounters with wild elephants. He is one among the three who has decided to stay back in Kayattuva, a place which was often threatened by elephants. It is 2 km away from Panieli Poru,  a beautiful place in the Ernakulam district of Kerala which is famous for its untamed wilderness and water falls.

Thankappan, who stands barely five feet tall says he is not afraid of elephants.  " They won’t hurt me. I light a candle and place it in a bucket. This scares them away. They hurt you, when you hurt them.”   Call it a paradox, a few days ago, before I went to do a story there, this lion-hearted man had to take refuge on a roof of another house when an elephant chased him. His was a thatched house.  He says "  I could not move as the elephant was in front of me. It was a narrow path. But somehow I managed to divert  its attention and ran and climbed upon the concrete roof of another house."

To reach Kayattuva, we had to travel 22 km through forest. I was really scared. I have of course, seen plenty of them and I come from a district in Kerala called Thrissur which is famous for its love for elephants. But I was not at all prepared to meet a wild elephant. Due to its steepness, our car could not move fast. So 22 km felt like 44 km.

 A year ago, 25 families lived in Kayattuva. Each family has one or two acres of rubber plantation. But now there are just 9 empty houses. Many shifted their abode. But as they could not leave their only source of income, they come to Kayattuva at the crack of dawn and wind up their work by 5 pm. Even when they say that elephants are intelligent and resort to violence only if humans hurt them, they did not want to take a chance with their little children and family.

You know ? When I was interviewing them, some one yelled that there was an elephant lurking in the woods just to show its head by 5 pm. Fortunately or unfortunately, I did not come across them. But it was a wonderful experience.


pic courtesy : Mithun Vinod