New Delhi: A few days before the nationwide lockdown was announced, 30-year-old Sanjeev Das was diagnosed with terminal stage cancer at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi.
His old parents had suffered a lot — a piling debt, being abandoned by their other son, sleeping hungry for days together — just to see Sanjeev get better. They had one last dream. Whatever little time Sanjeev had left, they wanted to spend it together back at their home in Bihar's Banka district. Instead, their son died in the subway in front of AIIMS on Friday morning because there was no way back home.
"He used to make this droning noise every night because he was in a lot of pain and couldn't sleep properly. But sometime past midnight, he stopped making these noises. Everyone thought he's sleeping peacefully after many days," said Murad Khushwaha, who also sleeps in the subway with his family, including his five-year-old daughter who was being treated for cancer. He is also stuck here since the lockdown.
As is Balram Das from Rajasthan's Alwar, who came to the hospital to seek treatment for his eyes. It was he who decided to walk down to the police to inform them about the death. "The body was just lying there for hours, over which his mother was wailing. No one knew what to do. I thought about the women and children who were sitting just a few feet away, in horror. They shouldn't have to see all this," he said. The body was eventually picked up at 11 and sent for post-mortem examination. Doctors told his parents that Sanjeev had died around 4 that morning.
At about 6 in the evening on Friday, Sanjeev's parents — 70-year-old Sarju Das and 65-year-old Meena Devi — returned to the subway after performing their son's last rites. A person sitting next to him asked Sarju how they performed the funeral.
"Humko le gaye duur kahin bijli waale mein. Wahin jala diya (We were to some place far away to an electric crematorium. There the body was cremated)," he replied.
The person asked Sarju whether he'd got along his son's ashes.
"Raakh leke kya karega babu. Apna hi kuch pata nahi (What will I do with my son's ashes. I'm not sure of my own whereabouts)," was the response.
Sarju, who used to earn a living as a small-time shepherd, said his son would consume a lot of tobacco because of which he developed a tumour in his left cheek. Sarju and Meena took him to hospitals in Patna, then to one in Bengaluru, and finally they brought him to AIIMS in Delhi.
In the course of this journey, Sanjeev's wife left them and the family came under tremendous financial stress. But the elderly couple had their other 20-year-old son to depend upon. However, a few days after they came to AIIMS, he too left them one night, never to return.
"Sanjeev's treatment lasted nine months. But for the past few days his condition had been getting worse. He had stopped eating completely. We asked the doctors to operate on him. But around 20 days ago they told us that Sanjeev wouldn't live much longer, that there was no point in the operation. They told us to take him back home. That's what we were trying to do before this lockdown happened," Meena Devi said.
Some other attendants and patients at AIIMS had paid private ambulance drivers to drop them home. But a drive down to Bihar would have cost Sarju Das nothing less than Rs 50,000. He couldn't even dream of paying such a huge amount. So the family moved to a small space in a corner of the subway with their son, the space in which only Sarju and Meena will live now. They don't know how long.
"Everything is up to God now. Food, water, everything. He will decide for us now. Now we are not in any hurry. Let the lockdown continue for as long as it will. We will beg and hope for the best. Only ask those big babus to give my son's death certificate," Sarju pleaded with folded hands.
After a few moments, something occurred to him. "You know once I was a proud father of two young boys. I used to stand like this," the thin-framed Sarju said, posturing like a wrestler.