A few days ago a few friends and I saved a man’s life. Or so we think. He was lying near a vacant site in a housing colony called Arunoday Society in Alkapuri, with a big rotting wound on the back of his head. Initially when I passed him by I thought he was dead, and I actually went past him on my cycle, contemplating something. I went further up, although I had more than noticed him. How could I have not, because he was really dirty and ragged and lying quite prominently in the edge of an empty site, by a garbage dump.
After passing him by I realized that I had a choice of actually going back and helping him. I fought it, and then in my mind saw myself going back and helping. Coming back as I was from my Arabic class thought what my conservative Arabic teacher would think of it. He would totally not approve. He would think I’m crazy, I thought. I turned back because when I imagined myself doing it, I knew I would do it. And I am crazy. So I went up and saw him. And noticed first that he was breathing. He had urine on his pants. I hadn’t noticed the wound yet, and then a cow grazing in the nearby garbage dump came and licked his head, and then I saw his wound, rotting with maggots. I could see his skull.I tried to talk to him. I had to yell to overcome my revulsion. He saw me and started touching himself. I was disgusted.
I had decided to help him. I then called my friend, Leela Mayor and told her about him.That there was a man lying in Alkapuri who I saw on my way, and that I wanted to help him. She told me that she’d call her mother, Vinodini Mayer who runs an NGO or disabled people called V1 Society and get back. I saw the surroundings; people would cycle or go past, take a look at him and go away. When I stood at a distance from where he was lying, people would look at him, then me, and go away. I wondered how doing what I was doing would change anything in my life, and knew how thought and action were all jumbled up in my head, that I was too much thought and little action. I had to get momentum. Had to get someone to help. So after talking to Leela, I stopped someone on a two wheeler and told him that I was planning to take this man to the hospital(Leela had told me that I must take him to the SS General Hospital ), so could he get me an auto .He obliged after looking at the man, and then looking at me and realizing I was serious. And came back after a while, with an auto whose driver looked at the man lying on the street, and shook his head and went away.
Something about this man didn’t ignite mercy in the hearts of a lot of people. A rag- picker woman I spoke to said that he’s mad, that he drinks and takes what he wants to eat from people. Some other people who looked like they worked in houses nearby saw me trying to talk to him and went about their businesses. I didn’t bother to approach the more well-off looking people from the nearby building. I just didn’t have the energy o explain the task to them. And I knew I couldn’t take their disdain. He seemed to have somehow survived with a gaping wound that showed his skull. When I spoke to him, he wouldn’t answer, although he could he hear. He sighed when I said something kind so he wasn’t altogether mad. But what is mad? Should you not go out of your way to help someone who’s mad? What if he’s a sinner, a murderer? Who knows?
He was drawing from something that lay deep within. That I can tell. Good or bad I couldn’t discern. But he is a victim or beneficiary of the thing called mercy that we all possessed that day. Was it ‘mad’ of everyone involved that day to have gotten him out of the street to get medical help? He exuded to me the air of all the excesses in life. Drink, intoxication, and sex. Is that why he was left to die? Then the fact that we did something good for him must say something about the nature of the world.
I tried stopping another auto. I had to lie that I’m a social worker this time. Somehow, I was left feeling that one needs a certain validity to be able to get out of your way and do something. Not a normal concerned citizen, I was posing as a social worker. Because the normal citizen is as helpless as you and me? Obviously, this incident says that we’re not. But even as I write this I can feel the pressure of self-involvedness, mine and other peoples’ bearing down on me, forcing me to inaction. This auto-driver said “Arre yeh to randwa hai, isse municipality mein dedo” when I asked to take him to the hospital. So I asked him where the municipality office is and he said he could take me there. I was feeling like this was a no go situation so let me at least do something. Then Leela called with the first good news of the day. She was coming there, bringing their cook Jyotsna and the auto they sat in had, for a driver a man kinder than the ones I’d encountered. So I got off the auto and headed back to the site where the man lay. She asked me what society it was, so I asked someone, who gave me a look that left me feeling again, like I was out of place. I decided to fight any more of such feelings. I remember now, and again what Vandana Shiva had said in a lecture, that if you raise your head enough times against injustice then you’ve done your bit. Today I believe much more in the absolute necessity of constructive action, but I still feel helplessness, and I think that that is because of where I am, in life and in Gujarat. The last impelling force is that of mercy, that everyone deserves it. Anyways, Leela was coming, and I knew it would be easy from hereon. Leela, Jyotsna and the auto driver, as soon as they arrived, saw his wound first. And reading from the expressions on their faces I was relieved and knew I didn’t have to go into any explanation. “It could be any of us”, said Leela. In the auto driver’s eyes I saw, pity, revulsion, and compassion. Jyotsna was kind and she asked me how I happened to see him, looking at me with understanding. I was very relieved at seeing them and thankful that they felt the same way.
Leela called the police on 911 and was answered. While we waited, another couple drove past on a motor cycle and stopped to talk to us. I asked him to call 911 as well and when he did they said that they’d received the call about him and were on their way. Soon, there was a police van with four constables. A writer from the police department also joined us. The police suggested that we take him to the Mother Teresa Home in Makarpura, not SS hospital, because they are the only home in the city for the destitute of this degree. So the task at hand was to move this stinking wounded dirty man to the police van. By now we had about six or seven people there, Vinodini Mayor of V1 society who came, on Leela’s call, Leela, myself, Jyotsna and the six police men.And our victim or sufferor, sitting on his haunches by now and wondering about all this furore he had caused refused to budge. And when the pressure on him to move got too much, he calmly walked away from the whole scene and lay down the cemented outer space of an apartment. He clearly valued his freedom. After some reassurance that we were going to get him medicine which he needed and not put him in jail (the homeless have many reasons to fear the police, as Leela pointed out), he got up and went into the van. In the police van I had a conversation, the first I hope of many with the police constables about the role of the police in riots. I like every conscious Muslim in the country who knows of the 2002 massacre resent the police of Baroda and Ahmedabad for the role they played in it. Many times in the old city I’ve seen police officers behaving very rudely in even slight incidents of a communal flavour, by which I basically mean any incident related to Muslims. After some hesitation I asked one of them, Naresh what he thought. And like with everyone else who is Hindu in Baroda the prejudice I found is deep seated; like when you’re bred ideologically to exclude. The details of our conversation are the subject of another piece, in this case I was glad to have entered into a dialogue.
In the case of this incident the role that the police played is laudable and worthy of praise. The officer told me that in many situations, he has hung around in areas of conflict and protected members of the ‘other’ community. He told me that the police is bound by human rights laws and they can’t really do much in the case of a riot. But, knowing the details of what went on in Baroda in Muslim houses at the hands of police officers, I’m not willing to spare him the law enforcement institutions in this state so easily. Time and again I heard the word terrorism. I must confess it’s difficult to have a take on global terrorism, but about the local issues I can say that when people are hurt they tend to retaliate with violence. When they lose their land, life honour and voices, then it’s easy to indoctrinate them against an enemy. Violence breeds violence and the role of the state is to safeguard life. To restore life, be it a homeless person or a person you think is a potential terrorist. Here we were, six people getting a homeless wounded, probably ‘mad‘man to a Charity Home , and when a mob burned 40 people alive in Best Bakery, there was not a single law enforcer in this city doing his duty. We had come to Makarpura.At the Mother Teresa’s home, the man we brought was quickly taken for bath with a hose. And the police van dropped Leela and me. We said our good byes and left.And two days later there was a picture of him in the newspaper with is head shaven and walking around near another garbage dump.