Odisha train tragedy
The families of only two of the seriously injured in the Odisha train tragedy are yet to be paid the compensation of Rs 2 lakh. Khokan is one of them

Odisha train tragedy | A date with broken dreams, uncertain futures: A reporter’s diary

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A freshly purchased bedsheet spread on the floor next to the door leading to the neurosurgery ICU has been her bed for the past 20 days, with a plastic bag containing some clothes and documents for a pillow.

Though the temperature has gone past 41 degrees, what makes life difficult is the soaking humidity. However, a twenty-something Bulti Khatoon sits calmly. She sips water from a bottle at regular intervals. She also wipes the exterior of a packet of Horlicks kept near the water bottles.

It’s the fourth Horlicks packet she has purchased for her husband, Sk Khokan, who lies unconscious with serious head injuries inside. Khokan, aged 29 according to his Aadhaar card, is one of the 205 grievously injured victims of the June 2 Odisha train disaster admitted to Cuttack’s SCB Medical College and Hospital (SCBMCH). Forty-five injured passengers are under treatment, including 12 in the ICUs, at the hospital. Of those in the ICUs, the conditions of two remain critical, said a doctor.

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Khokan is on liquid diet and is fed through nasogastric tubes. Bulti says once the tube is removed, she will offer him fresh fruits. On their return, she will cook him the choicest dishes, and feed him a lot of paneer and ghee. For that, she will work or even borrow from relatives. However, given Khokan’s condition, it’s unlikely that Bulti will be able to go back with her husband to their two-room thatched-roof home in Bardhaman (West Bengal) anytime soon.

Battle for life

On June 2 morning, Bulti and her two minor sons saw off Khokan at the main door of their house. Khokan was headed to Kolkata to board the Chennai-bound Coromandel Express. He was on his way to Kerala where he worked as a mason under a contractor. “Unlike in our locality, in Kerala, one gets regular work; the wage is high as well,” Bulti says, adding, “He used to come home for a short stay after every two or three months. He can’t stay away from the children for too long.”

She shares that Khokan had promised to repair the roof of their house to plug water leakage in the rainy season during his next visit. Though the Met department has announced that monsoon has arrived in the eastern parts of the country, Bulti is not worried about the house or roof. At the moment, the only focus is her husband’s recovery.

The couple was thinking of sending their younger son to school. The four-and-a-half-year-old may now have to wait for at least another year to have his first school experience. Bulti is not sure about their elder son’s education either.

Bulti was cooking a meal around 8 pm on June 2 when she heard about the devastating train crash at Balasore in Odisha. “My head started reeling. I couldn’t see anything. I thought I had gone blind,” she recounts.

However, her parents and three other relatives arrived at her place soon. While her mother took the children along to her house, the other four, including Bulti and her father, left in search of Khokan. Bulti didn’t forget to carry the Rs 5,000 in cash she had at home. With this money, she was to manage the family for two months and pay for her son’s tuition fee until her husband returned.

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Frantic search

Unmindful of the terrible heat and humidity, their eyes scanned, unsuccessfully though, all the damaged coaches lying scattered at the accident site and then the injured passengers in different hospitals in and around Balasore for 30 hours, without a minute’s rest. When they got to know that the seriously injured had been shifted to SCBMCH, the four rushed to Cuttack.

Tracing Khokan was not easy at this hospital, either. Everywhere they reached, be it at the Bahanaga station, Balasore or the wards and ICUs of this hospital, they found a sea of worried crowds. “But, I had the faith that I would surely find him,” Bulti narrates while looking at a nurse entering the ICU.

Her faith didn’t betray her, though. On the evening of June 4, at last, she found her husband at this ICU. “I cried for hours thanking God,” she tells. She knows that four of the injured have died during treatment at this hospital. However, she tries not to believe it. She’s scared of such news.

Drying resources

When I asked her how much money she was left with, Bulti’s face turned dry. After a brief search she pulled out of the bag a 200-rupee note and another Rs 300 wrapped in papers, separately. She said she would manage herself with Rs 200, while the rest will be used for fruit juice for her husband.

Also read: Two weeks after Balasore, Odisha triple-train tragedy: A status report

“A lot of money was exhausted on our travel and food. When my relatives returned, they didn’t have the bus fare, so I paid them,” she explains. Pointing at the gown she is wearing and the bedsheet, she says that she has purchased those for herself. Her expenses also involved cost of three packets of Horlicks and juice for Khokan.

An official of the East Coast Railway said the families of only two of the seriously injured are yet to be paid the compensation of Rs 2 lakh. Khokan is one of them. Several of the train tragedy victims’ relatives present at the hospital told The Federal that they had received the cheques. However, since they were away from their homes, they couldn’t encash the cheques and would do it once they returned home.

As I offer her a few thousand, Bulti breaks down. With folded hands she says in a choked voice, “Dada please, don’t give me money, I may not be able to repay it. If possible, please pray for my husband’s quick recovery.” However, after repeated coaxing, she accepts the money. Wiping her tears she says, “I will spend this for him only.”

Distraught kin

The plight of other train tragedy victims at the hospital is no better. Those belonging to Bihar and Jharkhand said they usually have their meals from outside. However, the ones from West Bengal purchase muri (puffed rice) for their breakfast. For lunch and dinner, they search for low-cost restaurants nearby.

Though all of them carry mobile phones, through which they remain in touch with their families back home, one thing is certain — all of them are acutely poor with a majority being landless. Somehow, they manage to have a bath, but due to want of facility, they can’t wash their clothes, and wear the same ones for days together.

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