Cabbie who could not save sister builds hospital to treat the poor
Kolkata: With no cutting-edge medical equipment, air-conditioning or critical care unit in place, the under-construction building in West Bengal's South 24 Parganas district hardly matches the popular notion of a modern medical care facility. Yet, the hospital has become a national landmark as it tells the story of a grieving brother turning his droplets of tears into an ocean of determination that helped establish it.
Taxi driver Saidul Lashkar set out on what then seemed a near impossible journey in 2004 after his sister Marufa died of chest infection as he did not have the means to get her treated in a hospital. Marufa was only 17.
Though shattered and inconsolable, Saidul took a pledge not to let anyone else in his neighbourhood die without treatment.
"I felt I needed to do something so that no impoverished person dies like she did, without getting treatment. I wish no brother loses his sister like I did," Saidul said, leaning quietly on a wall of the newly constructed patients' waiting hall of Marufa Smriti Welfare Foundation in Punri village near Baruipur, about 55 km from Kolkata.
Twelve years were spent chasing the dream, as the cabbie criss-crossed the streets of Kolkata, never veering for a moment from his single-minded pursuit to make the project happen. It was not at all a walk in the park, he recalled.
Saidul would talk at length about his mission to the passengers while driving and show them the documents and receipts of the donations he had received so far. But a majority refused to lend him a helping hand.
However, some did oblige, particularly a young girl, Srishti Ghosh from south Kolkata, who was so moved by his story that she decided to donate her entire first month's salary to the hospital fund.
"I found my lost sister in Srishti. When she and her mother heard my story, they took down my number and promised to call back. I was not sure if they really would, but when she really came along and donated her first salary, I was overwhelmed," he said.
As strangers came in ones and twos, helping him gradually raise the funds for the hospital, back home, Saidul's wife Shamima stood by her husband like a rock.
"None of this would have been possible without my wife. When I started, a lot of people in my close circle distanced themselves from me thinking I am crazy, but my wife was there all along. She even gave me all her ornaments to collect the funds for the land," he said.
Finally, Saidul's dream came true on February 17 as the hospital started functioning, albeit partially, by opening its outdoor unit to patients.
In a touching gesture, Saidul got his new-found "sister" Srishti to inaugurate the hospital.
The response from the locals has been overwhelming, as the nearest hospital in the area is almost 11 km away.
"There is a buzz all around. Everybody in the area is talking about the hospital," said Sojol Das, while driving this correspondent in his e-rickshaw to the hospital premises.
Work is now on to make it a full-fledged 50-bed hospital with other necessary facilities like X-Ray and Electrocardiography (ECG).
"This is currently a two-storied building but we have plans to make it four-storied. On the opening day, our doctors could treat 286 patients while so many others were left out due to shortage of time and resources. I am sure once it becomes fully functional, people of nearly 100 villages would be benefited," Saidul said.
Saidul's courage to dream big indeed impressed lots of people, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who praised his efforts in his radio address to the nation, "Mann ki Baat" .
Modi talking about the hospital project, the 40-something taxi driver said, has certainly given him more courage and assured him that he is headed in the right direction.
"Since his speech, a lot of people got in touch with me. Many have offered help. Some local contractors have helped me out by supplying sand, bricks and cement needed for the construction work, while a doctor from Chennai has expressed his wish to join my hospital and treat patients."
Eight doctors are at present associated with the hospital where they would be providing free service for now. However, Saidul said, they have plans to provide healthcare in exchange of a bare minimum fee, necessary for the hospital's maintenance.
Dhiresh Chowdhury, in charge of the orthopaedic department, was all praise for Saidul.
"Building a hospital is a mammoth task. For Saidul to do it with such a meagre income is unthinkable. We all are with him," added the doctor, whose NGO Banchory is providing the medical equipment.
But the dreamer in Saidul now refuses to stop with only one hospital.
"Now that I have so many people with me, I feel I can go even further to fulfil my dream. Maybe I won't limit myself only to constructing one hospital. Maybe I'll go further in search of new dreams."