Sunday, May 23, 2010

Alas! I have only a ‘drop in the ocean’ to offer to Mangalore air disaster victims

The scene of Boeing crash at Patna on July17,2000- Pic by Deepak Kumar


The crash of the Air India Boeing 737 at the Mangalore airport instantly revived my memory of India’s last major airline disaster in Patna on July 17, 2000. I was among the most of the Patna residents who had been trying to forget the tragedy for the best part of the decade.

But a phone call from my editor, R Rajagopal asking me to recollect the horrendous event and pen it down once again brought the scene of the thick layers of smoke covering the surroundings around the crashed Alliance Airlines Boeing-737, bodies charred beyond recognition and the wails of the grieving relatives alive in my mind.

The call of the editor, bound by his duty to reflect the trauma and bliss of the people in a dispassionate fashion, awakened me to my responsibility as a journalist to keep the accounts of whatever I have seen and covered- bad or good. After all, I had covered the July 2000 air tragedy and the editor rightly asked me recall the event.

Many people had left Patna’s Gardanibagh for fear of ghosts after the Boeing 737 crashed into the locality 10 years ago, killing 60 people including all five occupants of a bungalow on which it had perished.

The Saturday’s Mangalore disaster seemed to bring those ghosts back from the past. A four-storey girls’ school has replaced the government bungalow on which the Alliance Air flight from Calcutta had dropped on July 17, 2000.

It was hard to forget the scene for years. Amarendra Mishra who survived for he was not at home but had lost all his family members in the house on which the plane had dropped has shifted to another neighbourhood. Many others followed him, fearing “dead men’s ghosts loitering amid the debris”. Some performed yajnas and havans for weeks and months at the site to drive the “evil spirits” away.

The residents still recall that the fear of ghosts haunted them for more than two years. They did not go to the spot. The 10-katha plot stayed abandoned for years. The site was fenced off with barbed wire and stayed in that condition till six months ago. Now the state government has built the Kamala Nehru Girls’ School, which will soon be inaugurated.

Ironically, it was an another incident of trauma that gave way to the idea of building the girls’ school at the air disaster site to obliterate the memory of the one of the worst ever air disasters in India, prior to Saturday. The Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar lost his wife, Maju Devi, a teacher by profession in 2007. Mr Kumar has got built the Kamala Nehru Girls’ school in his wife’s memory at the site which stayed as the abode of ‘ghosts’ for the most part of the decade after the mishap.

The four story school at the site which got ready only four months ago is likely to get functional soon. The residents now hope that life will return to what was the ghosts’ abode when the giggling girls and teachers throng at the school and the bell rings.

An ordinary mortal my heart goes out to the people who lost their near and dear ones in the disaster at Mangalore. I pray for the peace of the departed souls and strength to the relatives to bear with the loss. I wish I had the power and charisma to infuse life among those who left us pre-maturely.

I also know that mine is a wishful thinking, bordering more on emotion than the reality. But at the same time I offer with whatever limited resources I have to alleviate the sufferings of my fellow human beings who underwent the loss on Saturday at Mangalore.

I am ready to offer a part of my salary to the student who lost his father supporting his study. I am ready to love and care the ones who lost their caring parents. I also offer myself to help and share the grief of the parents who lost their sons and daughters in the disaster.

I am far away from Mangalore. But feel free to contact me. I am ready to offer whatever I have despite I know that my contribution is like a drop in the ocean.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gates pops caste question; Billionaire do-gooder stuns Bihar officials

Pics: Deepak Kumar


Gularia (Bihar), May 12: If some are still wondering why the census cannot blank out caste, their answer came bobbing in a country boat today.

Bill Gates, who usually crosses continents on his $45-million private jet, took the boat that shuddered in the swift waters of the Kosi to reach a remote Bihar village that had hardly ever seen a district official.

One of his first questions was if caste divisions in the country’s backward hinterland were coming in the way of healthcare.

“What about caste? Is it not possible that people from influential castes might be confining (polio) immunisation and vaccines among children and mothers of their own caste groups?” the Microsoft founder asked the officials accompanying him to Gularia, where the rat-eating Musahars were waiting for the master of the “mouse”.

As the stunned officials racked their brains for an answer, principal secretary, health, C.K. Mishra saved the situation. “It is not a factor,” the IAS officer said. “The immunisation and vaccination drives are carried out for all.”

While the query came at a time the Centre is thinking of including caste in the census for the first time in 80 years, the prompt reply may have masked a grimmer picture — if not because of caste then because of the Kosi river.

Officials had failed to carry out immunisation in villages that had been flooded by the Kosi in 2008-09, and health agencies had detected as many as 38 cases of P-1 bacteria — the deadliest among polio bacteria.

The philanthropist, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has adopted impoverished Gularia in Khagaria district, got off a helicopter in a maize field and boarded the boat, accompanied by the district magistrate, Unicef and WHO officials, and volunteers.

Gates landed near the river before taking the boat to the village, which is virtually cut off from the rest of the world and has no proper drinking water facilities, electricity, roads and schools.

More than 80 per cent of the people here are illiterate, though the village has a temple to Saraswati. The goddess of learning is Gularia’s most prominent deity.

The temple, however, escaped Gates’s attention.

The foundation, which focuses on health and learning, had chosen the village based on feedback from the organisation’s India CEO Ashok Alexander, principal health secretary Mishra and Unicef.

Officials said the Foundation would study “on-the-spot observations of Bill Gates” and engage more NGOs to speed up healthcare for mothers and children in the village before taking up other backward villages across the country.

So what brought Gates here in this 43-degree heat?

“The beauty of the land and the serenity of the rivers,” he told The Telegraph. “It is a wonderful feeling. I feel very good. You can notice it.”

Gates reached the village around 9.30 in the morning and stayed over three hours. He had sand on his shirt and trousers but he visited nearly every one of the 200 huts in the village of 700, most of them Musahars.

“Gates sahib ne hamare gaon ko god liya hai, iska matlab hai ki is gaon ke garib ab amir ho jaingein or yahan road, pool aur school banjayega (Gates has adopted our village. It means the poor villagers will become rich and the village will have a road, bridge and a school,” said Ghurni Devi, 45, a mother of five, as her husband Shibu Sada stood beside her.

Gates mingled with the villagers and talked to them as the officials and the volunteers accompanying him briefed the 54-year-old philanthropist how they had been carrying out the immunisation drive, travelling on bikes.

It prompted the caste query (Courtesy The Telegraph)

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