April 14, 2010


I walk by the family every morning. They fascinate me. They live on the sidewalk along the road to Tala Park. It is an uncountable family, with brothers, sisters, and children scattered across the block. I watch with embarrassment as they do their laundry, their children poop on the sidewalk, a mother nurses her baby, the older man naps, the aunty cooks breakfast. They do not have the luxury of privacy. Their every action on public display. Do I make eye contact? I avoid walking through their living room, bathroom, and bedroom as I step into the street. Their habitation has completely overtaken the footpath. Their saris and clothes strung along bamboo poles, hanging in the sun to dry as they create a superficial barrier between the inhabitants and
street traffic. They smile as I pass, calling out one day, "Photo?" I am overjoyed at the opportunity to document this scene, having felt any uninvited photography would be voyeuristic, invasive, and insulting. I snap the tarpaulin shading a pile of blankets. The mothers pose with their children, proudly. A lady sweeps and grins for the camera. So at peace they are with so little. I promise to return with their printed photos.

I greet the family, huddled by one of the women, who I quickly  understand to have recently had a baby. Yesterday, I find out with  minimal Bengali. I give them their portraits which they happily  accept, and they continue explaining that Momita is very sick and she  has not been eating. I don't know much Bengali to ask medical questions, but I can see with my eyes the absolute discomfort of this poor new mother. I have another moment where I wish sincerely that I am a doctor already. Luckily the clinic is only a rickshaw ride away
and we hail a bicycle, our ambulance escort to Tala Park, a Calcutta Rescue clinic made just for street people like Momita who cannot access health care. Momita cannot walk on her own. I have her wait with her family outside. I consult the clinic manager as it is an emergency. I explain her weakness, her recent delivery on the
streetside, the need to see one of the doctors. "You can't bring a patient like this here! We have no facilities for examining her, she must go to the hospital! What if she has some complications? What if she gave birth in unsterile conditions? We would be in such trouble! What if she hasn't birthed the placenta? You can't just take a patient off the street, these scavenger patients, its too dangerous!"

I wonder, what is the point of Calcutta Rescue then? They say they will see her only after she is seen at the hospital. Then they can give her free medications. I insist that we bring her to the hospital. They get her a jeep escort there, along with a staff member. I want to go but I am not allowed. And I have already caused too much commotion. Going against protocols, messing up their sterile and uncaring system. What should these patients do then, if not seek help at our clinics? Is there no such thing as emergency medicine? It is the same
bureaucracy, the same indifference, impatience, and lack of human compassion that alienate and as a result sacrifice the lives of these street people that even a street medicine organization designed to accommodate these very patients does not know how to deal with and fails to treat with the respect and obligation to care upon which the medical field prides itself.
I visit Momita. She is luckily alive. But she was turned away at the hospital because she hadn't brought some papers. They sent her back to the footpath. She did not attend the clinic. She did not receive any medical advice. She was never even examined by a physician. I urge her to visit the clinic again. But who would visit such a place after being treated like that?

Does no one in the world care? It is just the way it is here. Your country can't be compared with India.

Insurmountable problems,
Created only by the laziness and selfishness
Of human beings themselves.
There are standards of living.
There are universal human rights
That may be broken for many,
For everyone.
But that does not make it right.
That does not excuse
The sin.

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