Art Of Miserable Living. ( Aoml )

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For the poor, death is as miserable as living
By Dr Asha Benakappa

Hanumanthappa, a 14-year-old boy and only son of Muniyappa, a poor farmer from Koppal, was brought to Vani Vilas Hospital, Bangalore, a few weeks ago for treatment.

HanumanthappaHe was suffering from rheumatic heart disease for the past five years. It took his father as many years to organise the money for his son’s treatment in Bangalore. He sold his few guntas of land for a paltry sum to raise the funds. When Hanumanthappa was finally taken to Jayadeva institute of Cardiology, Muniyappa was told that his son was suffering from terminal heart disease and had only a few days to live. It was then that the young boy was shifted to my unit of the Vani Vilas hospital, where the father and son stayed with us for three weeks.

Muniyappa had lost his wife and had not married again. He had brought some ragi, a kerosene stove and some miscellaneous items in a gunny bag. He would cook for himself in the courtyard of the hospital and the son would get food from the hospital kitchen. He would run around for the investigations.He himself was very much run down. He had a small pouch hanging around his waist carrying that precious money. Slowly, the pouch became smaller and so also the gunny bag as days passed by, with no hope of his son ever recovering.

Every morning, before the doctors visited his son in the intensive care unit, Muniyappa would go about with his routine of giving the bedridden Hanumanthappa a bath, brush his teeth and put fresh set of tattered cloths, washed and dried in the courtyard of the hospital.

The love and affection father and son had for each other is something which I can never forget as long as I live. The picture is permanently etched in my mind. The implicit dedication the father had and the belief that his only child would recover, draws tears to my eyes even today. He would spend the money only for the medical expenses and not for food or anything else. All these pennies were saved to ‘save’ his only child.

The child’s illness would have ups and downs. Whenever he was critical, the father would lean to his bedside and reassure. Amidst all that pain and agony Hanumanthappa would laugh and tell the father to be brave, while he fought with death. It was very touching to see this frail father carry the boy to the toilet when he was not too sick, give him the bed pan when very sick. I never saw him grumbling any time. Always by the son’s side he would stoically face the situation all alone.
It was unfortunate that I happened to be there when Hanumanthappa breathed his last. The father was called in to the intensive care ward and told about the son’s death. He did not cry. Wish he had done. He quietly collected all those precious belongings which had now reduced to half a gunny bag and that dangling pouch had a few hundreds.

Beyond his reach

Muniyappa disappeared for a good hour or two. We were all wondering where he could have gone because for the three weeks he was in and around us 24/7. While we were thinking of organising to shift the body to mortuary and label it abandoned, as hospital policies does not permit us to keep the body in the ward for more than three hours, Muniyappa appeared panting and puffing carrying a fairly big ‘trunk.’ He quietly went about doing his work with a little assistance from all of us. That is folding up his son’s body and fitting it into that trunk. Curiosity overtook my emotions and I asked him why he was doing this. He said, he had gone out to enquire about a taxi to carry his dead son to Koppal. He wanted his son’s body to be laid to rest in their soil, but the cost of carrying the dead body was three and half to four thousand rupees (which was more than the money he had brought for his son’s treatment, after selling the land).

He told me, in a matter of fact tone, that the trunk had cost him four hundred, which he would put as a luggage in the bus and ticket for himself. The frail man asked us to raise the trunk on to his head and mustered himself to walk out of the hospital on to a bus to far off Koppal to lay the body to rest. Somehow, Hanumanthappa and Muniyappa are two wonderful people whom I cannot forget. For the poor, death is costlier than life.

Poverty has no grief. Hardship is an everyday affair. Despite the tragedy, the man had the determination to carry the body and rest it in the soil of his land and perform those last rites.

For many days, these thought of the father and son kept creeping in my mind and went about asking the KSRTC about transporting the dead bodies. They said there was no provision at all. I wasn’t interested in giving them the information that the ‘trunk’ in their luggage could contain a dead body. I only hope that Muniyappa had somehow managed.

It is 62 years since independence and we still do not have helpful policies and laws in place. The poverty stricken common man has no voice after the vote. He bears death also in the same way as of life’s miseries.
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Dec 8, 2012