Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Auto Driver

September 2003

“Hurry up mom, walk fast. We’re getting late. It is 3:40 and it takes more than 30 minutes to reach there.”

“That’s when we get the auto as soon as we reach the main road. Otherwise... I don’t know why they refuse to go there.”

“Yes. I hope the doctor gets late today. We can’t reach there by 4:00.”

“And he will be there on time. It happens all the time Ravi. When we are on time, the doctor gets late and we have to wait there. But if we get late, he’s on time and we miss the appointment and have to wait till the whole appointment list is over.”

“It is going to be like this only today mom. There’s no way we can meet the appointment if he’s on time.”


I spotted an auto and shouted to call make it stop. He stopped some distance ahead. I walked up to him.

“Yes Sir?”

“Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.”

“In Karol Bagh?”

“Well it is not in Karol Bagh but very close to it. Will you take us there?”

“Yes Sir. I’m going in that direction only. Please sit.”

“For how much?”

“Whatever is genuine sir. I’m going there only.”

“30 rupees”

“Fine Sir. Please sit.”

We boarded his auto quite happily but it was a little strange. The normal fare for the distance we had to cover is Rs. 35 and the auto drivers charge anything from Rs. 35 to Rs. 80. It is up to your bargaining skills to strike a better deal. But this person agreed to a fare which was lower than the genuine fare that he could have charged.

After some ten minutes, he asked-

“Sir, does one require an ice box to carry a unit of blood from the blood bank to the hospital?”

“Why? What’s the matter?”

“Sir my son is admitted in the hospital. They have to do a surgery. They have asked for a unit of this blood group.”

He showed me a small prescription slip of a hospital which read-

                Blood Group      : B- (B Negative)

                Qty                         : 1 unit

“Sir I went to the blood bank. They are asking Rs. 250 for the blood. It is a government run blood bank. Sir, do they charge so high for the blood? I had gone to another blood bank but they said that they don’t have it.”

“These are storage and upkeep charges. What about the ice box?”

“Sir I’m a poor man. I’ve already spent so much on my son’s treatment. Now Rs. 250 for the blood and they are asking to bring an ice box to carry it. The ice box costs Rs. 50 sir. I’ve no money left with me sir. But I have to get this blood very fast. Without this blood, they won’t start the surgery. I’m losing so much time sir. The fare that you will give me will help in a lot.”

In the meantime, we had reached Karol Bagh. The Ganga Ram Hospital is on Pusa Road which is next to Karol Bagh. He turned into a side lane in Karol Bagh.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Sir there is a relative of mine who works here in one of the houses in this colony. I will see if he can give me some money. It won’t take more than 2 minutes sir.”

With this, he parked the auto on one side of the road and disappeared into the crowd on the road. I could see him going into a flat on the other side of the road.

“Poor man, he seems to be in trouble.” my mom said to me.

“We were already late and now we are struck here. I think we will miss it even if the doctor gets late today. It is 4:05.” I responded.

We waited for about 10 minutes after which he came back. He started the auto.

“He didn’t give anything. Nobody helps you when you are in great need. Where will I get this money from?”

His voice became a little heavy as he said this. Then there was a small pause. I was not sure but perhaps I heard him sobbing.

“It is that cricket ball.”

He started crying now.

“That cricket ball sir you know. He was playing with his friends when the ball hit him in the chest. He came back home but didn’t say anything to us. Not even to his mother.”

He was crying and it was getting difficult to comprehend him in the noise of the traffic. He tried to explain the injury. What I could make out of his description was that the ball had broken one of the ribs. The broken rib later damaged his lungs.

“Had he told us earlier about this, it would have been easy. This is what the doctors say.”

“When did it all happen?”

“Three days ago. And we came to know about it today only. My son will die. I’m a very poor man.”

We had reached the hospital.

“Take it in. You can get out from the next gate.”

We drove in. He stopped in front of the OPD Dept. We alighted from his auto. I took out 30 rupees from my wallet and gave them to him. He looked towards me. His eyes were red because of crying but I could read his eyes. There was hope in his eyes. He was expecting more from me. He wanted me to help him. He wanted me to give him some more money. May be Rs. 50. Or Rs. 250. Or Rs. 300. Or may be more than that.

I gave him Rs. 5 more.

“Rs. 35 is the genuine fare. This is what you would have got had you come by the meter. Rs. 30 was a low price quoted by me. I didn’t expect you to agree for that. So I’ll pay you Rs. 35.”

With this I turned towards mom. She had a very sympathetic look in her eyes. She didn’t say even a single word but I know she was asking me to give some more money to that man.

“Let’s move mom. We have got too late. It’s 4:20.”

“Anyways we have to wait till the end now.”

There was something very strange in the way she said this. I felt a little uneasy.

“Who knows.” I said.

Quite against the trend, the doctor was late that day. He came at 4:35 so we didn’t miss the appointment. We sat in the waiting room till then. Though it was just a period of 15 minutes, but somehow it seemed quite long one. There was complete silence. I didn’t say anything to mom. She didn’t say anything to me. After meeting the doctor, we came back home, again in an auto. We didn’t talk to each other even then. There was complete silence (except for the noise of traffic on the road).

I never talked to her about it.

For that auto driver, I don’t know what happened to his son. Going by his description of the situation, his son seemed to be in critical condition. I don’t know whether I should have helped him. I don’t know whether he was able to arrange the money. I don’t know whether giving some 200 or 300 rupees would have saved his son’s life.

I don’t know...

[Later I came to know that B- is the second rarest blood group. It is always a problem to get blood of this group as there are very few donors. Generally it is not available in many of the blood banks. I also came to know that my own blood group is B-.]