This space has been quiet but my thoughts haven’t. I am in Bombay.
It took me a while to get used to the busyness of the most populated city in my country. I visited it multiple times before for work but never really experienced it beyond the hotels and airport. I wanted to change that and see what it is like to be in a city with over 18.4 million humans. It just happened. If life was a book, this chapter has been very interesting. The small town girl in me struggled with what initially felt like a sensory overload but have come to realise how it is all just normal in Bombay (I just like to call Mumbai by its old name). It is very well coordinated organised chaos. It took sometime but it has grown on me. My heart still races every time I am exploring the city on my own not because I feel threatened but because everything seems very fascinating. I have been discovering the magic of the Indian railways from where it originated amongst other things. While I might write more about the magic of this big city someday, today I want to share a conversation I had with a human I will never forget.
I was heading back from a coaching session mid-day and had a call from an internet service provider on a long drive home. A heated argument and I hung up annoyed. The man in the front seat smiled through the mirror and said, they all want to fleece money, don’t let it bother you. Do you want water? I thanked him for reminding me and emptied half my bottle in a gulp. It was a hot and humid afternoon. I told him what happened and then he shared a very similar experience he had a few years ago. The key difference: he asked where their office was and took the police over to talk to them. He wasn’t lying. He is a doer. Our conversation steered towards the recent history of communication. Pagers, large mobile phones with limited network range and current technology and its hassles. He told me how he was given a mobile phone while he worked as a supervisor. He remembered every detail of how much he paid for his first phone and the trends in recharge plans he used and still uses. He must be in his late fifties. He is a library I wish I could go back to everyday.
The conversation moved towards Bombay. I asked if he misses his village and he mentioned that it is a long sad story. He wasn’t sure if he should share it. All he said was that it is a sad story. I wanted to know more and requested him not to stop if he felt like sharing. He did and I am grateful. He said before mobile phones were a norm, while travelling home he met with an accident and it changed his life. He was in a bus in a hilly state up north and was sitting in the front seat near the driver. On a narrow road uphill, a heavy truck was coming from the opposite side and either of them had to stop move back and let the other pass but the driver decided it would be ok and veered the bus and lost control smashing straight into the truck. Every human on the bus and truck died on the spot except him. He fully remembers everything that happened very vividly. All the details. I had goose bumps listening. He explained how it was shocking and how it took hours to be discovered and taken to the nearest hospital. He was in extreme pain and could not move an inch. He was conscious throughout and clear about what happened, inspite of all the pain.
The local dispensary told him he has to be moved to a specialist hospital in the south, either Bangalore or Bombay to survive. He lost a lot of blood and was damaged in multiple places. They made the necessary arrangements after he chose Bombay and flew him over after two days. He was flown in and admitted into an intensive care unit. Upon being thoroughly examined, he was told both his legs and one arm have to be amputated as they are irreparable. He said he listened very carefully and told the team of doctors to give him an injection if they cannot operate him and get him walking again. He also told them that he can reach the saline bottle and is willing to inject himself to death and prefers that over living without both legs and an arm. I was in complete awe.. He explained to me that he finds it silly now that he thought that way then. He continued on to say, it felt like it was the only choice he had at that time. I cannot forget his eyes and the emotions they carried as he spoke each word. His determination made the doctors rethink. He said they made phone calls sent his reports to the best orthopaedic surgeon in the country who agreed to operate him with his team of experts.
On a normal day, the doctor’s fees would have costed him a lot of money, money there is no way he could afford. But his grit, strength and willingness to fight changed the minds of the doctors who operated free of cost. He didn’t want it free, he eventually paid a small part of the fee by selling all the land the family owned. It took the team eighteen hours to operate him and a year and a half in bed after that for him to even think about walking again. He spoke lovingly of the conversations and laughter he shared with the then Prime Minister, Vajpayee he was in a bed next to him after knee surgeries. He appreciated the help he received from him towards funding the hospital expenses. He said he was a funny man. I could not believe the fighter I was honoured to meet. He walks and speaks like nothing ever happened. Three of four limbs in tatters and reconstructed. He moved to a nursing home after a long time at the hospital as the bills were mounting. He eventually learnt how to walk again and decided to stay in Bombay.
His journey so far was in the walls of the hospitals, when he stepped out he had nothing in his hands and Bombay he said gave him life. He struggled initially. On a local train journey, he heard about an auto rickshaw auction. He attended it and borrowed money to buy one which he tried to drive to make a living. He was in a lot of pain and could not drive so he rented it out. With the rent he eventually paid back his debt and bought a few of autos in the coming years and made a decent living. After a small stint as a hotel supervisor he moved on to driving a car. From pain to almost pain free. He spoke in detail about the challenges he faced with struggling to stand for long and broke into a beautiful smile to say it was all worth it. We missed a turn and took a short detour, nothing close to how adventurous his life has been. All through such a deep conversation his concentration on the road is commendable.
There are days when I look back and smile at my days of learning to walk again and silly things I did during that chapter of life. Since meeting this man I think of his journey with great reverence. It was an unbelievable couple of hours of conversation that left him and me smiling. I hope for willpower like his for everyone who wants to live healthy.
I could go on but will leave you to reflect on your blessings. Here’s to all the heroes out there who challenge the challenges and do their thing no matter what.
Where there is a will, a way will find itself. This man proved it to me yet again.