Source : The Hindu
The Patna man who can’t abandon the abandoned
World Sikh Award to elderly Sikh who cares for abandoned patients in a State-run Patna hospital.
As Patna celebrated the three-day International Sikh Conclave, Gurmeet Singh was getting a cotton shirt and trousers stitched, his first in six years. The sexagenarian Sikh, who hasn’t stepped out of Patna for 13 years, is preparing to receive this year’s World Sikh Award in London, having been picked out of 100 entries from all over the world in the category “Sikhs in Seva” by a London based organization, The Sikh Directory. For over 20 years Gurmeet Singh has been visiting the lawaris or the abandoned patient’s ward of Bihar’s biggest government hospital every night with food, medicine and compassion for poor patients who have no one to turn to. At the lawaris ward patients wait for this Good Samaritan Sikh as someone waits for their angel.
On Wednesday night when The Hindu accompanied Gurmeet Singh to the ward in Patna Medical College and Hospital where there were 11 patients waiting for him. There were no signs of a doctor or nurse in the ward which was stinking with streams of urine and pale blood on the floor. A fetid smell of untouched left-over food given free by the hospital filled the air.
In the dimly-lit ward with lime-green walls, the faces of the patients light up when Gurmeet Singh steps in at 9 every night. “He is like God for us,” says Shanti Devi in a white loose dress. She has been in the ward with her infected leg for the last 15 days. “If Sardarji would not have been coming with food and medicine every night many of us have died,” she says, wolfing down fresh bread, vegetable and a sweet Gurmeet Singh has brought.It is her first meal of the day.
On the other bed in the room, there is a poor old woman from South India, her torn sari barely covering her. She can’t speak Hindi but seeing Gurmeet Singh she manages to sit up smile wanly. Opposite her, an emaciated, bedraggled woman with wild hair and a faded yellow petticoat is struggling to feed a tiny baby in her lap. She looks vacant and though she tries to speak, her voice fails her in every attempt. “She is mentally unsound…delivered the baby 10-days ago…”, says a voice from the next bed where an old lady with a bandage in her left hand sits. In another room Chandra Bhushan Kumar, Dev Prakash Mishra, Bhola Prasad and a mute old man who can’t get up, are waiting for Gurmeet.
Every night riding on his white scooty Gurmeet Singh leaves his small garment shop in the busy Chiraiyatand, buys food packets from a roadside “Radhe Krishna” eatery, near Gandhi Maidan, stops at Braj Ballabh Ghosh, a wheel cart sweet shop at the busy Ashok Rajpath. Sometimes Gurmeet buys eggs instead of sweets for a “change of taste”. With his bag full, he enters the PMCH’s “abandoned” ward, washes his hands in the wash basin takes out the steel plates he has kept there and serves food to the waiting patients.
Then he goes through the prescriptions of the patients and jots down the names of expensive medicines which he will buy. Gurmeet has lost count of the number of times he has donated blood for them. This is his unwavering routine. “Now, the doctors have told me not to donate blood anymore as it will be dangerous for my health…my son and other relatives donate. But sometimes when emergency comes, how can I not?” he says simply. Asked if anything had changed in this hospital in the last 20 years, he says, “Nothing.”
Fearing bad publicity, hospital authorities had banned his entry twice but each time his services were resumed after the intervention of respective District Magistrates. “He is among those rare persons who do selfless service to the human kind…very soon we’re going to honour him with our Prerna doot (Inspiring messenger) award”, Patna DM Sanjay Kumar Agrawal told The Hindu.
How does he manage? “There is a donation box in our house. Our family of five brothers put away 10 per cent of our monthly earnings in it. Our children do not celebrate birthdays or burst crackers during Diwali” Gurmeet says.
But as November 19, the day he will receive the award nears, Gurmeet is worried. Who will take care of the patients when he is gone to London? And how will he speak. As he puts it, “I do not know English, sir!”