The two brothers, Karimul and Khalilur, took very good care of their mother, tending to her needs and adjusting their daily schedule according to her requirements. However, Jafarunnesa was getting worse with each passing day. The situation came to a head on a cold December day in 1995. Uncomfortable and restless throughout the day, the critically ill Jafarunnesa lost consciousness at night. Karimul realized they needed to take her to Jalpaiguri Sadar Hospital immediately.
In those pre-telecom revolution days, only a privileged few had landline phones; the common man using a mobile phone was a distant dream, and it was rare for poor families to have a landline. That’s why a frantic Karimul had to rush to Kranti Bazaar, about three kilometres from his home, on that wintry night, to find even a car to take his mother to the hospital. He knew getting hold of an ambulance would be impossible. Karimul sought help from a businessman who had an Ambassador car and was willing to help, but his driver was unavailable that night.
Karimul knew there was little time to waste: if he failed to take his mother to the hospital right away, he would lose her. She had been gasping when he had left home to look for a doctor. He could feel his whole world falling apart in front of him. But there was little he could do.
Faced with this emotionally overwhelming crisis, Karimul was unable to think clearly. All he could do was pray to God to save his mother—or, rather, beseech Allah to send an ambulance. Helpless, Karimul sat on the roadside and broke down, crying his heart out. Then, remembering the pain etched on his mother’s face, he dashed home, to his mother’s bedside. Holding her hand, Karimul tearfully apologized to his unconscious mother for his inability to take her to the hospital. Soon after, in front of his own eyes, his mother breathed her last.
After that, Karimul became despondent. That his mother had died without proper treatment, that he couldn’t take her to the hospital because there was no ambulance in their locality gnawed at him, haunted him.
For many great people, a trigger changes the course of their life, prompting them to think radically and do the impossible, the unthinkable. Jafarunnesa’s death was that moment for Karimul, the one that changed his life completely. For the next six months or so, he could not sleep properly, could not talk to anyone properly, and could not eat properly. The circumstances of his mother’s death tortured him. He would often have nightmares of his mother dying without treatment, making him relive that moment again and again. Karimul stayed away from work for a few months, brooding day and night.
Eventually, the thought of doing something for the poor, who mostly die because of lack of proper and timely medical attention, or lack of ambulance services, took root in his mind. But he was so beset with problems in his personal life that he pushed the thought away.
He did not have any permanent work and was mostly dependent on a daily wage labourer’s job, without any guarantee of regular earnings. With his children growing up fast, it was getting more and more difficult for him to provide for his own family.
And then there came a ray of hope. One day, at Kranti Bazaar, he met Reyaj Chowdhury, the manager of Subarnapur Tea Garden and also a relative. Chowdhury asked him to work in his tea garden. Karimul readily joined from the next day as a labourer. After working there for a year, he was made a permanent employee.
One day in 1999, when Karimul was at work, Aijul Haque, a co-worker, collapsed. The workers tried to call an ambulance but were unable to arrange one. Time was running out—Aijul needed immediate medical attention. As Karimul realized that Aijul would die without treatment, the pain of his mother’s death revisited him. Suddenly, he had an idea. He grabbed the manager’s motorbike and asked a fellow worker to tie Aijul to his back with a piece of cloth. With Aijul riding pillion, Karimul made straight for the nearest local health centre.
When the doctors at the health centre told him to hasten to the district hospital, Karimul rushed immediately, with Aijul still fastened to his back, to the district hospital. Later, when Aijul recovered, the doctors told Karimul that his intervention had saved Aijul’s life.
The incident was an eye-opener for Karimul. That a motorbike could do the work of an ambulance and save a life had never occurred to him. The idea of buying a motorbike to take poor patients to hospital now took hold of him, and he became obsessed with this one desire. He thought that if he could do this, his mother would finally find peace in heaven, and his duty towards his mother, which he had failed to perform due to the unavailability of an ambulance, would be fulfilled. At least poor villagers would get timely medical attention.
But setting aside money from a paltry income to buy a motorbike was tough. Still, he did what he could with his limited resources. He started to carry patients to the hospital on his bicycle. Whenever he heard of a poor person in need of medical attention, Karimul would hurry to the patient’s home and ferry them to the hospital. If it was not possible to carry the patient to the hospital on his bicycle, he would accompany them.
Excerpted with permission from Bike Ambulance Dada: The Inspiring Story of Karimul Hak, The Man Who Saved over 4000 Lives, Biswajit Jha, Penguin India.
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