By: Ganesh Saili
For forty-something year old Geeta, married to a watchman in a hotels here, that fateful day was in no way different from any other. Out with other girls, she was collecting fodder near her village of Ugrar near Srinagar-Garhwal. Suddenly, she slipped on some dry oak leaves and plunged into a yawning khud.
In Covid times – it was akin to a death sentence – no public health care, Primary Health Centre or hospital along the road would touch her.
‘Covid chal raha hai!’ (Covid is on the loose!) they said, shooing her away.
‘Take me to Mussoorie!’ she gasped to her helpers.
Luckily for her, they listened and in an improvised ambulance, brought her on a bumpy ride to Mussoorie.
‘Ganesh! Our chowkidar’s wife has fallen down a khud,’ phones Dinraj Singh of Kasmanda, a friend of old. Adding: ‘They are bringing her after a two hundred kilometer ride to Mussoorie. Could you please put in a word at the Landour Community Hospital so that they expect her?’
Hours later, when she arrived at the hospital, no broken bones were found. Dr. George, the amiable Medical Superintendent told me: ‘Her blood count is low, so we are keeping her under observation to rule out internal injuries.’
Well! This story does have a happy ending. A fully recovered Geeta was last seen heading back to her home in the mountains.
You can easily take it for granted that medical facilities in our hills are almost non-existent, they are few and far between. If one is unwell, one heads to the Landour Community Hospital, above the Tehri bus-stand which was built some eighty-odd years ago by well-meaning missionaries to help hill folk in the abutting villages. It is the first port of call and provides services that posh hospitals cannot. Many a timely intervention has saved lives.
Another survival tale from the past is seared into my brain. The 2nd of September, 1994 was a day unlike any other. All of us – except the more fortunate or privileged ones – plunged into the movement for a separate hill state. Rallies, processions, sit-ins and bandhs were the order of the day. At first, the U.P. Government did nothing except wait and watch. Later, off came the velvet glove, out came the iron fist. And at the Children’s Park or Jhulaghar around noon, the crack of rifle shots rent the air, as a skittish Provincial Armed Constabulary opened fire. The wail of sirens revealed the story before it was told.
‘Chand Sa’ab! Chand Sa’ab!’ the words tumbled out of my mouth, hurriedly jostling and bumping into one another in a frantic haste to get spoken. Breathlessly, I stuttered to the hospital administrator: ‘There’s been a shoot out! Seven dead! Injured are on their way here.’
‘What can we do?’ Pale as a sheet, he managed to stutter. ‘There are just three doctors!”
‘Use the phone!’ I suggested, clutching at straws.
Fortunately the landline was working. Mobiles were a decade away. Call it luck; call it chance or both! Who’s can tell! Six doctors on the hillside, holidaying or visiting children in school, were traced. They came to the aid of eighteen people with severe bullet injuries and helped provide the best medical aid. Not a single life was lost at the hospital. Our Hotelier’s Association rose to the occasion and footed the bill which the hospital generously made for actuals only.
Years down the road, a philanthropist in memory of his dear mother, anonymously, quietly, without fanfare, traditional drumbeats or plaques renovated the aging old hospital. Today it is our lifeline. We latch on to it wherever someone is ill.
It was recently broadsided by the second wave of the pandemic, the virus played havoc through the hills. The need was felt for a ventilator or two. With a mountain load of good will on its side, crowd funding did the rest. Three hundred odd well-wishers, residents and alumnus of the many schools, came together to generously pool the amount required. All this and more was done before the sun had set.
After all, to survive shipwreck on these treacherous shoals, one has to trust and look beyond an apple day.
Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.