by Aastha Katyal
An incident that occurred a few weeks back has implored me to record the event as food for thought: how life can change from joy to grief, from celebration to gloom in a matter of seconds.
My father, like any other army officer, enjoys going to the club, unwinding over a game of snooker, or cards with his friends. A companion of his in the snooker room is a Para-commando officer by the name of Dharamveer. Over the numerous sessions of snooker, my father and Colonel Dharamveer, equally keen and good players began to share a friendship of sorts – a comfortable, enjoyable companionship.
That day occurence was narrated to me by my father in a gloomy tone. A gutter in the United Services (US) Club needed cleaning. As is common in India, gutter cleaners are not provided with suitable protection masks and clothing to prevent inhalation of poisonous gases and contact with harmful substances in the gutter. So, two brothers who came to clean out the gutter entered it without appropriate gear, and as a result of inhalation of the poisonous gases soon became unconscious.
Col. Dharamveer a regular visitor to the club, was passing by the gutter, and spotted the two unconscious bodies of the cleaners. Probably the bravado and compassion that gripped him was such, that his sense of logic got blinded, and he jumped into the gutter not realising that the poisonous gases could catch him as well.
And that is exactly what happened. Col. Dharamveer too inhaled the poisonous gases of the gutter and fell unconscious as well. After a while, an ambulance was called for, by a spectator of the scene. When the ambulance arrived it was discovered that the two cleaners were already dead, while Dharamveer was promptly taken to the nearest Defence hospital, INHS Asvini – his condition critical.
Battling with death in the ICU, he had left his wife and a baby daughter of about 5, to pray for his life.
“Excited about his upcoming birthday the next day, he had planned to play snooker all day along, it being a holiday,” my brother told me. Ironical, that outside the same snooker room, his sense of concern for fellow beings got him onto the bridge between life and death.
How a simple humane act of compassion for fellow human life led him to put his own, into a state of jeopardy, within a matter of 2 hours ! The sheer unpredictability of life is both exciting and scary.
This incident reminds me of an article in the Hindustan Times, Mumbai edition, sometime in May, 2009, which spoke of how gutter cleaners in Mumbai were not provided adequate protection, masks, and clothing gear when they went down to clean the drains, as a result contracting severe skin diseases or inhaling poisonous fumes harmful to their lives.
“It is actually the club’s fault for not providing masks to the cleaners, when they know the waste can exude harmful gases.” This statement by my brother voiced my very thoughts on how civic authorities are so callous towards the ‘lowly’ workers who actually perform one of the most important tasks, required to satiate the basic human need of cleanliness and sanity.
The Classical Marxism school of thought talks of how as we become more free, we become more and more intolerant towards other’s right to freedom. Why cannot we realise and ensure that others have the right and freedom to live as much as we do. Why in our blinded, selfish channel of thought, we choose to ignore any danger to other’s lives?
What makes humans different from animals is the ability to think and feel. Emotions are what make us a superior species. A sense of concern, sympathy for one’s fellow beings is what makes one a true human being.