A Fond Rememberance

During my career of twenty-eight years in Indian Administrative service, I had come across many individuals, who had been unfortunately not lucky enough to get the basic amenities in their life.

Being an administrative officer as well as a human being with an intention to mitigate their sufferings in my own small way, I had made constant endeavor to lessen their sufferings.

But at comparatively early age of thirty-two years and also early beginning of my career as an officer with just four years of experience, an incidence unfolded in my life, which has etched a fond memory in mind and a small smile flashes on my face when I remember the face of Janhabi and her unfortunate son – Dillip.

Just after few days of my joining as the Project Director DRDA, Sonepur in February 1999, a lady came to my office seeking an appointment with me from my personal Assistant.

The lady was quite old, short, fair and all grey hair but with very bright eyes just sparkling with hopes and faiths.

She was accompanied by her son, in his middle twenties.

The boy was tall and quite fair. But his feet and palm were missing, which I subsequently came to know because of leprosy.

Without such deformities, he would have been one of the most handsome boys, I had ever seen in that area.

Janhabi (the lady) was born to a rich Brahmin Family of Sonepur. It was a joint family headed by her grandfather.

She was married to a person not so rich, who was working in Calcutta. She was then quite happy.

As told to me by Janhabi, he lost his hands while working in a Jute mill in Calcutta and subsequently succumbed to the same.

Her son, though then cured of leprosy, had lost both the feet and palms due to the disease.

Incidentally, Sonepur was one of districts having high rate of prevalence of leprosy at a point of time.

Initially, she was reluctant to tell me that her son had also suffered from leprosy as it was a stigma to have such a disease in her society.

My Sub-collector told me much later that her husband had also suffered from leprosy and lost his hand etc, due to the disease.

However, she would never disclose the fact that her husband suffered from the disease because of social reasons.

After death of her husband, she had no source of livelihood and wanted her rights over her paternal properties.

As she did not get her rightful stake, she had approached unsuccessfully even the High Court of Orissa to get her share, after having lost her legal battles in lower district courts.

She was very optimistic of getting her share ultimately for which she wanted my help in that regard,I went through her papers and various judgments and consulted local lawyers.

The properties were being enjoyed by the male descendants of the brothers of the father of Janhabi.

In various courts, it had been proved by the Opposite parties that the father of Janhabi, a member of undivided Hindi Family, died before the Hindu Succession Act came into effect in 1956.

And as the daughter of such deceased member of the joint family, she has no rights over properties since after death of her father, all the rights had passed on to other male members of the undivided family.

The only recourse left open to her was to go to the Supreme Court.

She fondly remembered how the ex-collector Shri Saroj Jha had been sympathetic to her causes, whom she remembered as the God-sent to listen to her grievances.

Shri Jha had got a house under constructed Indira Awas Yojana over one of her family plots in Mayurdaan village and provided other facilities too.

Fearing the district administration, the opposite parties never dared to enter into that plot though legally Janhabi had no rights over the same.

She believed that if it were not for the untimely – transfer of Shri Jha from Sonepur, she would have won the legal battle.

Since transfer of Shri Jha’s transfer five years ago, she was not able to air her grievances effectively again to anyone in the district administration.

She had lived with many hopes, mostly around her son – Dillip. Her brightened and animated eyes spoke of her dreams.

She was very hopeful that she would ultimately win the legal battle, cultivate her lands and settle her handicapped son, including marrying to a decent girl, who would look after him after her death.

With no one to support her as well as because of her advanced-age and frail-health coupled with her differently-abled son, there was no source of any livelihood for her.

But the old age pension sanctioned to her by Shri Jha, as well as handicapped pension sanctioned to her son was the only source of sustenance to her even though, total amount sanctioned was merely rupees two hundred per month.

Mr. Jagannath of Lepra India, who was working for the Bolangir and Sonepur Leprosy project (BOLEP), had so far been quite generous to them. They were being looked after by BOLEP.

Both the mother and son were residing in a part of the dilapidated building located in front of the BOLEP office.

The lady had not much physical strength, being of advanced age and frail due to undernourishment.

Nevertheless, she was a source of inspiration to people around her because of her mental strength.

She astonished all the people around her, including me, with her indomitable spirit, determined resolution to settle her son and survive in an environment, where all the cards have fallen against her.

She used to cook, feed her son, give him bath and do everything for him, she would even pick-up quarrels with everyone including the officials of BOLEP, if they are rude/ unkind to her son, including any complaint against her son Dillip. Though Mr. Jagannath had been abused by Janhabi for matters relating to her son, he had tolerated always, being a man of kindness and integrity.

I always had a feeling that it was her concern and apprehension for well-being of Dillip and a craving for justice, which kept her alive and active for long.

During my posting in Sonepur, which included my stint as the Collector, I had the opportunity to meet her on many occasions and lend my ears to her woes.

This familiarity, coupled with her simple heart, a mother’s passion for her son and desperate attempt to fight against all the odds for her son, endeared her to me and the same alternatively blossomed to a familiar relationship.

On being convinced, she deserved all the sympathy and compassion from the administration, we took care of the same by supporting her with the help from the Red-Cross or other sources.

Her visit to my official residence became more frequent as she found a solace in ventilating her woes in me and alternatively I always found a great inspiration to talk to her, just amazed by her unconquerable spirit and sparkle in her eyes laced with hope.

In the meanwhile, I consulted to a number of Advocates and legal authorities showing them all the orders of the lower and High Court.

All of them opined that she had no chance to succeed as the question regarding the date of death of her father had already been settled before courts of law.

Since the girls had no rights to inherit any property as per Hindu laws prior to 1956, it would be a futile exercise and no tangible result could be achieved.

So, it was better not to pursue the case anymore.

One afternoon in April 2000, when I was having a late-lunch after coming back from tour in my residence, I was informed that Dillip, having been brought by a jeep of Lepra India, wanted desperately to meet me.

He was in tears and fell on the ground. He wanted my assistance for her mother, who was then in the hospital.

He wanted me to come to the hospital at the earliest. I understood that Janhabi had some stomach ache and had since been hospitalized.

The boy apprehending that the worst would happen and he would be nowhere, he had sought my help at this juncture.

As time was a crucial factor, I drove my vehicle personally as the driver had already left for lunch to his residence.

I also preferred to intimate the Chief District Medical Officer (CDMO) my intending visit to the hospital to meet ailing Janhabi.

While I reached the hospital, I found Janhabi lying on a bed kept on the Verandah. On seeing me, a small smile appeared on her brightened face and a sparkle of hope flashed in her eyes.

She said that she was having a stomach problem on the previous day. When she came to hospital, the doctor, on duty, even though allotted her a bed, but gave no treatment.

On same day afternoon, as her pain subsided on its own, she returned home without any treatment, as she was worried about her disabled son and her concern to look after him. But next-day, she had to return back again to the hospital for treatment, when her pain increased and she was still lying on the bed, awaiting her treatment.

Soon after, on my intimation of visiting her in the hospital, the CDMO, ADMO and few doctors promptly attended her and examined her physical condition.

All of them in unison opined that her physical condition needed no apprehension as it was a simple case of some food poisoning and one injection, that had been already administered to her, would ensure her well-being.

The CDMO (who later on, became the Director, Health Services, Odisha) after consulting the doctors assured me that I had nothing to worry and she would be alright in no-time.

They shifted her to a bed inside the ward. The CDMO reprimanded the lady for having left the hospital, without informing the doctors.

On the same, she replied that she was not given any treatment in the first-place during her earlier admission a day-before.

To that the CDMO wanted to know the reason why that lapse/ negligence on the part of attending doctors, was not brought to his notice.

But I could imagine her ignorance to the niceties of the hospital rules and her anxiety for well-being of her son had prompted her to leave the hospital, when she felt better on her own.

However, the doctors present made some physical checks on her. Some antibiotics were injected.

I could see certain relief on her face within two hours of treatment and her son was very happy to see so many doctors attending his mother.

Having found my concern for Janhabi, the CDMO requested me to go home and assured that he would take the best of care to make her recover at the earliest.

He assured me that Janhabi would be all right for discharge within next twenty-four hours. With the repeated assurances, I returned to my residence leaving behind me the smiling faces of Janhabi and Dillip.

At about nine P. M. in the night, there was a telephone call from Dillip, saying that her mother’s condition was fast deteriorating and he wanted my presence in the hospital.

I called up the CDMO, who was unaware of it. Intimating my concern for this unwelcome development, I told him about my visit to the hospital again.

When I reached there, I saw a pipe, inserted through the nose of Janhabi and dark-colored fluid was being taken out of her stomach. Already the CDMO and few doctors were beside her being informed about my visit.

Janhabi was in terrible pains. The CDMO appeared quite concerned, but assured me that there was nothing to worry.

According to him, if there was a need, the patient would be sent to nearby Bolangir District head quarter hospital, which has facilities for operation. He indicated that as a remote distant possibility.

After sometime, the pipe was removed from her nose. The lady was having little breathing problem.

She caught my hand firmly and requested that his son should be taken care of by me as he would have no one to look after him after she was gone.

She was very much concerned as to how the boy would eat, bathe and live. In her mind, concern for her son was paramount and she wanted to ensure welfare of her son.

I could see disappearance of signs of her Physical discomfort due to food poisoning and stomach ache from her face. Her face was quiet, free from any feeling that she was not well.

A mother was speaking for a son, and for her nothing else was more important than well-being of her son who was standing a little way leaning against the wall of the room. He was sobbing.

I knew that Sonepur hospital lacked basic facilities to undertake even a small operation. The effort to make the blood bank operational had not borne any fruit till then.

There were no oxygen cylinder and I wondered how the CDMO could take care of an emergency. He assured that the ambulance was always ready and it required less than one hour for the patient to reach Bolangir and any case of emergency would be handled easily.

As I was not confident of the situation, I requested the CDMO to examine if the patient needed to be shifted to Bolangir. But the attending doctors, including CDMO, repeatedly assured me confidently that it was a simple case of internal infections due to food poisoning, which they would handle without much difficulty.

But not being convinced myself, more so because of my genuine concern for Janhabi, I thought it proper and fit to remain on her bed-side for some more time to observe hopefully and optimistically her improvement.

With the doctors attending her, I sat near her bed, with the CDMO for about two hours with the expectation of her early recovery and resultant relief to my anxiety for her well-being.

During the course of her treatment, she had been injected with a number of doses, including anti-biotics. Complaints of Stomach pain subsided to a great extent. She was feeling sleepy.

While acknowledging my concern for her as well as my hectic and demanding schedule as a district collector, the CDMO requested me to go home and take some rest.

The visible improvement of Janhabi and repeated assurances from the attending doctors, I contemplated returning but I once again emphasized my concern for Janhabi as I was emotionally attached to her because of the old lady’s faith in me.

I accentuated repeatedly that they should take of her to the fullest extent and if need may be, they can call me at any point of the night without any hesitation.

When I finally left Janhabi there with a heavy heart and reluctantly, everything appeared quite normal to me.

No worries were written on the face of Dillip after being convinced that her mother was in best of hands.

Her mother’s face was calm as pain had subsided and visible relief was there in her physical condition. The CDMO and other doctors saw me off.

At about 4.00 AM, CDMO – Dr. Patra speaking from the hospital informed over telephone that the condition of patient had worsened. He was making necessary arrangements to transport the patient to Bolangir as a case of emergency.

I requested him to do every possible thing at the earliest.

I got ready for the hospital as I felt that something was terribly wrong.

I saw, on reaching there, the CDMO and other doctors around her. The pipe had again been inserted through her nose. Dark fluid was in full flow. A bucket was full of it.

The CDMO indicated that internal infection was quite large and the bleeding was not stopping. The ambulance was being made ready and the CDMO, Bolangir had been contacted.

He assured that a small operation would have to be undertaken at Bolangir and she would be alright.

Dillip was crying profusely, praying for his mother’s early recovery. Much of pain was written in the face of Janhabi due to her physical discomfiture.

But she did not complain of any pain but only pleaded with me for ensuring her son’s future and implored that I should take care of him after her death.

With her still brightened eyes hoping that I would take care of her son after her death, she did not complain to me of any laxity in her treatment as her son’s well being was paramount to her at that point of time.

She was to be moved out to Bolangir but she had the gut feeling that inevitable was going to happen.

With the realization that time was fast running, she took this opportunity to utilize the same for talking about her son. It was Dillip and only Dillip that mattered to her most in spite of her physical discomfiture and impending inevitable staring before her face.

Despite my presence, it took about two hours for them to arrange the ambulance, nurse and staff, who would accompany her in the ambulance to Bolangir.

I wished fast recovery to Janhabi before the ambulance started. Dillip followed her mother. The CDMO went on explaining how all of a sudden, her condition worsened despite being constantly monitored by the doctors in general and him in particular.

With his assurance that after a small operation Janhabi would recover, I returned back to my residence in the early hours of the morning from the hospital after Janhabi left for Balangir.

At my residence, even though I was attending to normal routine works, I was eagerly waiting, with bated breaths, hoping for good news about Janhabi. While I was getting ready to go to the office, the CDMO broke the news that before the ambulance could reach Bolangir, Janhabi breathed her last.

I had nothing to say to the CDMO but I could not reconcile to the fact that a person could die because of some stomach ailment, in spite of being under constant medical supervision.

The same became more irreconciled as I had been repeatedly assured by the doctors of the hospital that nothing was going to happen as it was a case of simple case of stomach infection.

The feelings of Dillip that the doctors of Sonepur killed her mother was more upsetting and distressing to me.

The district administration helped Dillip to perform last rites of his mother. Lepra India provided a shelter to Dillip and assured me that they would do something to rehabilitate him at Sonepur.

Afterwards, I was transferred to Nuapada District and Dillip used to keep in touch with me.

When I was subsequently posted to Rayagada as the District Collector, he came to me for assistance several times and wanted to be accommodated in Rayagada as BOLEP was having problems to take care of him any longer.

I got in touch with a local NGO for his treatment. The Director of HOINA Lepra Home was a kind-hearted person.

Because of his care, Dillip continueed to stay there for a number of years. In Rayagada I had a plan to settle Dillip there.

After learning the plight of Dillip, the Sub-Collector, Gunupur was kind enough to offer a job of watch and ward duty under the regulated market committee as Dillip could do it easily, despite his physical disability.

It was also proposed that a small piece of Government land would be granted to him at his place of employment and assistance be under India Awas Yojana would be granted for construction of a house.

It was felt that with a job and a house, Dillip would be able to find a suitable girl and settle down at Muniguda.

I was soon transferred from Rayagada and came to Bhubaneswar. Despite my constant and earnest follow-ups, Dillip neither got any land, assisted under IAY nor any promised job.

I reminded the officials of Rayagada districts of the same. But the officials of Rayagada raised many objections, one among that is Dillip did not have any BPL Card for which he was ineligible to get a house under IAY.

Even after issuance of a form the Panchayati Raj Department on this matter, a house under IAY still alluded him.

I wrote letters to various officers and few NRIs to support for rehabilitation of this handicapped boy, giving all the references of the previous background.

I wrote a letter to Shri Sushil Kumar Lohani, my friend elaborately mentioning him all facts and seeking some support. Mr. Eliazar T. Rose, Director, New Hope, Muniguda made some additional contributions form his own sources and with his active support and guidance, a mini rice huller had been set up for Dillip which was inaugurated on 29 Oct 2008.

His mother’s desire that Dillip should live with dignity for the rest of life was to be fulfilled. However, since 2008 till date, many developments have taken place. The rice huller stopped functioning after few years.

New Hope, Muniguda was closed. Dillip has become older and weaker. He has to be taken to hospitals in Rayagada, Vishakhapatna, Berhampur and Bhubaneswar for treatment on several occasions over the years. He needs care, attention, food etc. to survive.

Fortunately, all the required support has been made available from time to time.
During the course of my long career as an administrative officer, I had the opportunity to meet people from all strata of life.

They had come with a hope that the administration would mitigate their sufferings and I had been fortunate enough to have a good number of such reminiscence of memories.

But still the face of Janhabi in the wee hours of that day of April 2000, when she was being taken to Balangir, with the pleading for her son continues to haunt me on the matters relating to Dillip.

There is an untold & unwritten promise to Janhabi at her dying moments to look after Dillip.

Even though several years have passed since the day Janhabi had left this world, the fond remembrance of her and her son, fulfillment of her dying wishes, still makes me feel serene.

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