#241 When his sleep was more important than someone’s life…

Bengal is perhaps the most non-violent yet violent state of India and perhaps the only state where the letter V stands for Bhaayolence! When an accident happens they will fold up their sleeves, shout and scream and curse and abuse, "Chherey De Bolchhi", but the last time someone actually hit someone was in 1947.

This was forwarded to me last month by a colleague and I was quick to forward it to people who I thought would be able to relate to it. The above paragraph is just a part of the bigger picture: ‘पिक्चर तो अभी बाकी है मेरे दोस्त’. Having stayed in Bengal for almost four years, some harsh realities came to my realisation. Initially I though it was just another very poor state of India, but much to my surprise I found that it was perhaps a place with unlimited potential to improve itself.

Calcutta was the first city in India to have metro railway way back in 1984. It was commissioned even earlier, around 1975.  Howrah Bridge, the trademark of Kolkata, constructed way back in 1943 was the 3rd longest cantilever bridge in the world then (it ranks 6 now) and Vidyasagar Setu was the 5th longest cable stayed bridge when it was constructed in 1992. These bridges were and still are symbolic in India and must-see tourist spots. If you happen to visit Kolkata, you will find some brilliant roads and cloverleaf flyovers constructed long back. Bengal has also given the world some brilliant people like Tagore, Mother Teressa, JC Bose and many more… Bengal also got India’s first autonomous Higher Technical Institute for post-war industrial development of India. The first Indian Institute of Technology was setup at the Hijli Detention Camp (1930-37, 1940-42). Kharagpur boasts of one of the biggest railway workshops in India, the longest railway platform in the world (1072.5 m) and India’s first underground Air Force Base (Kalaikunda). Bengal had a vision. Bengal had brains and resources to envision a great future.

But then, something happened. I really do not know what happened. If you ever happen to visit Kolkata, or any other city in Bengal, you would be shocked to find yourself at least a decade in the past. Unlike most states in India, Bengal unfortunately has struggled to find itself walk hand in hand with the advances of the new India. The chai-walah on the street side is still the same xyz-da you knew when you were a kid. Sauvik-da is still selling jhal moodhi at his old shack. Most of the things you knew might not have changed there. People are as poor as they ever were. Those old lanky sweating guys are still ferrying people on their cycle rickshaws they can barely pull. Even the cost of life has remained almost the same. Did you hear people grumbling about the same issues they used to a few years back? Nothing has changed in Bengal. Oh man… even the government is the same since last few decades!!

This happened a few days back at IIT Kharagpur: a third-year student Rohit Kumar had been visiting the campus hospital ‘BC Roy Technology Hospital’ complaining of headache for some days. One fine day on his way to the hospital, he fainted and fell from the cycle rickshaw. Injured badly, he was rushed to the hospital. Being a Sunday there was no doctor readily available. Later when the doctor came to the scene, he recommended the boy to be taken to Apollo Hospital in Kolkata (120 km). Subsequent delays in arranging an ambulance added to the woes. On the way to Kolkata, it was realised that though the oxygen mask was placed over his mouth, the supply had not been switched on’. He started coughing up blood and conditions worsened. The ambulance was diverted to a hospital in Midnapore. No arrangements were made to receive the patient and when doctor’s finally reached, he was declared dead on arrival.

This was not the first such incident. A few more students and maybe even some professors have lost their lives because proper medical facilities or doctors were not available at the campus hospital. Strange rules of the campus hospital meant that consulting hours of the doctors be limited to 3-4 hours in the morning a a few hours in the evening, only on weekdays. The pharmacy would have barely any medicines other than paracetamol. To see a doctor, one needed to stand in a serpentine queue, twice! Once to get an appointment and then outside the doctor’s cabin waiting for your turn! Conditions were pathetic. Doctors there have been known to diagnose patients’ conditions wrong. Malaria and Typhoid would almost always be diagnosed as stomach ache! Calpol seemed to be their most loved tablet!

I still remember that afternoon in second year when I crashed my cycle into my friend’s and hurt my lower abdomen badly. I rushed to the hospital only to find it closed as it was afternoon. I could only get superficial bandages. My lower abdomen started paining badly and it was suggested by my family doctor in Mumbai to get a USG done. The USG in the hospital was booked for the next few weeks I wonder for whom! USG specialist would only come once a week all the way from Kolkata. There was no facility for emergency cases like mine. Eventually I had to go out of the campus to a local hospital and get an emergency sonography done. Fortunately, all my internal organs were fine. I now know that there is no functional operation theatre in the campus hospital due to lack of a surgeon and possibly also due to the lack of instruments. Even at this moment there is one of my very good friends from first year, suffering from malaria and was in late stages a few days back. He is now recovering in Delhi. Had he not rushed home in time, God knows what would have been the outcome.

Students are an active lot. They will play, they will fall, they will hurt themselves. They will venture out, they will eat and fall sick! It is very human to fall sick or get hurt! Professors stay for years together with their spouses and children. Situations of critical health are inevitable. A campus hospital catering to an Indian Institute of Technology that boasts of a population of almost 10,000 students and thousands of faculty and support staff cannot be complacent. Even IIT Bombay has a hospital that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It has doctors present all the time on duty and has really good pathology and other facilities. All that in spite of the fact that IIT Bombay is located in a metro city and any help outside the campus is just minutes away!

The problem here is not of funds. The problem here is of initiative. The problem is of lack of a will to bring about a change. It is not a problem of the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur or the Government of India, or the Government of West Bengal, it is a problem of the state of Bengal and the mindset of its people. People in Bengal need to wake up and look ahead. Open their eyes and see the shit they are lying in. It has been long that they have taken pride of their culture and their state, of their language and their ancestors. Today is the time when they should look forward to getting out of the shackles they have got themselves into.

It is very difficult to bring about a change in Bengal. People refused to let industrialisation come to their state. That would have generated a lot of jobs and would have got a steady income flowing into hundreds of families. Workers unions have ensured that Bengal does not progress. They would make sure that cycle-rickshaws would always remain on the streets. They would make sure that old-rattled busses ply for a thousand years on the streets of Kolkata. They would make sure everything that would ensure the poorest keep doing what they have been doing for the last few decades. They would even ensure Saurav Ganguly keeps playing cricket till the day cricket exists! May be they are too lazy! May be they are so lazy that their mind has stopped generating innovations and new ideas. May be they are just too lazy to even vote for a different government! May be the situation is so bad that they just cant think anything beyond the current scenario. They have lost the ability to look forward and would vehemently and very non-violently oppose any change. Every few days, wherever you are in Bengal you would come across a group of men carrying a few red flags and shouting ‘Cholbe na, Cholbe na’ at the top of their voice. They will never harm anyone. But little do they realise that in doing all this, they are only harming themselves. Bengal needs a change. A sudden and drastic change. A change in the lifestyle of people. A change in the way they look not only at the world but also at themselves.

Bengal has potential and resources. Kolkata is the only metro city in India after Delhi, that I think has immense capacity to grow and become a world class city. It has land, it has water, it has manpower and it has its share of capital. When I say Bengal has potential, I mean manpower. It is highly necessary for Bengal to utilize its manpower to 100% and channelize it into all sectors and industries. Instead of joining the march of resentment, jamming the wheels of change, Bengalis must come together and rise to the occasion, fuel the growth their state has been wanting from them. I hope that happens before it is too late. I hope that happens before me.

Having said all this, let me tell you I have some wonderful memories attached to Kharagpur, Kolkata and Bengal on the whole. I made some wonderful friends and met some really sweet Bengalis. To date, Bengalis remain the most admired sect of Indians for me. I even prefer calling myself ‘Aditto’ instead of Aditya, the way a Bengali person would call me. I have nothing against the state, the institute or anybody in particular. I just hope things change, for their own good, and may be in some way for the good of the rest.

Inputs taken from The Scholars’ Avenue, the campus newspaper of IIT Kharagpur. If you wish to read more about Rohit’s death, what happened at the campus after that, and other stories glorifying the campus hospital, you may visit www.scholarsavenue.org

The views expressed in this article are entirely mine and nobody else should be questioned in this regard. You may feel free to post your comments (subject to my approval) or mail me at aditya [dot] ee [at] gmail [dot] com

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9 thoughts on “#241 When his sleep was more important than someone’s life…

  1. For starters I would say that Bengal has been changing. I first came to Calcutta in 1995 and then, the only persons in the city who spoke Hindi where the taxi-drivers, the ice-cream “thelawaalas” etc, most of whom who had migrated from neighboring Bihar. But today, when I go to the City Center in Salt Lake or even in the Metro trains, I can very frequently hear people talking in Hindi, so much so, that I have observed that the Hindi of Bengalis in general has improved. So, this definitely is an indication of Calcutta getting a more pan-India look, which can only be a consequence of growth of opportunities in the city.

    But the time frame that I am talking of is still too small in contrast to the time period that Bengal has taken to denigrate itself since independence. Calcutta was the seat of power and Bengal was the center-stage of all industries during the British period. Bengal was at the forefront during the freedom movement and had a huge presence of intellectuals. Perhaps, this was the fact that led to a feeling among the people of Bengal that they were somewhat superior to the rest of the nation. May be the much celebrated quote of Gopalkrishna Gokhale that “what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow” was always at the back of their minds. And more so, because the Marxist government made them believe so, that they can move in their own way, that the country would follow them. But the Bengal of these days, doesn’t even think today what India had already thought yesterday. The government in the name of a rigid ideology has done everything to either drive out or close all the industries and has done nothing to increase the productivity of the existing ones and of its own machinery. Unless certain bold moves are taken and some serious commitment is shown, Bengal will have nothing but the long bygone glorious days as its only laurels.

  2. extremely well written. i read from start to the end and each single word and thought made good sense.. The IIT-Kgp incident was very sad, disgusted us all.. i don’t know why, but i ws jubilant to see the director’s car damaged.. if only blood would boil like this for the right reasons more often before a fatality takes place..

  3. Very nicely written and some great insight.

    Imagine if the lal-jhanda brigade all started blogging at the same time.. it would be hilarious.

    There would be just the one post titled “Cholbe Na” and then nothing else. Awesome….

  4. I agree with you.People really are too lazy to actually work and there’s huge potential to improve and progress. No doubt its the mindset of the people which does not allow any substantial changes to take place. Apart from Kolkata, there is hardly any region of Bengal which is even remotely developed. But the very charm of Kolkata lies in its relaxed ambience, its old buildings, buses, ambassadors,trams, rickshaws… and the lazy pace of life. You can either hate it or love it, there’s no in-between. It gives a feeling of belongingness which I have hardly felt in any other city I have visited. People are proud of their culture, their traditions and rightly so.Culturally, its the richest city of India.

  5. I guess I dint blink more than once while reading the whole of it. I agree Bengal is a state you can take as a strating pt of this discussion , but really there are many many areas in our country which are far more backward. I still feel Bengal has an upper edge. India is so diverse that it would take ages to bring every corner of it at the same level –

    “even if no water , no grain ,
    We call Indians to be same ”

    Somehow after my observation I have found out that its not the matter of lack of funds or infrastructure which has led to all this , it is WE – the people . As it is rightly said “Its all in ur mind” ..When people don’t have the word “progress” in their minds they don’t put any effort .
    This wud be an endless topic to discuss I guess…I think all of us know the root cause ,The day every indivudual starts changing on the personal level the look of the country would change.

  6. have heard a lot of people complain about the ‘bengal bug’, but very few people putting it this way. While I would agree with almost everything in the article, what I don’t agree is a very minor point. I think the potential is not just in bengal, its everywhere in our country. Jharkhand being the place of my birth is very dear to me. It has hu haa potential, I was really optimistic when it was carved out from Bihar as a separate state. Everyone thought that once Jharkhand is free from the corrupt inefficient government of Bihar, it will boom like anything and its resources would be put to good use. But seven years have passed, and Jharkhand has remained a smaller Bihar. Bihar itself has a huge potential, The state sends the maximum number of civil servants, and produces considerable number of engineers and other professionals. But it remains the poorest,most ridiculed, most corrupt, most red taped state. And here comes the question of drive that you have pointed out. We dont have the drive to change our situation. When we count the ills, they seem to be so numerous, and cleansing them seems to be such a herculean task, that we give up before we start.

    1. Thanks Borna for your comment.
      Yes it might be true for more states in India than just Bengal. I singled out Bengal out of the states I have lived in. A statement which is universally true for a country like India is that we should start considering our population as a resource more than a hindrance! We need to channelize human efforts, energy and intelligence in the right manner at the right places.

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