Burdwan, Oct. 2: The 60-year-old man sat fidgeting in his wooden chair in his thatched house as the bad news reached him: village youth Kripasindhu Bala had again been taken to hospital for a dialysis.
Suddenly the idea came to Nilmadhab Biswas: there was a way to save the boy. But would the others on Nilkuthi Sarbojonin Durgotsav Committee agree'
The retired agricultural labourer of Nilkuthi camp, bordering Chanchai village in Burdwan's Memari, threw a towel over his shoulders and walked out with determined steps.
He needn't have feared: the decision was unanimous. The Durga Puja is the only time of the year when the impoverished families of the hamlet, about 85 km from Calcutta, forget their worries and celebrate. But they wouldn't do it this year.
Instead, the Rs 25,000 chanda the committee had collected would help pay for the new kidney that 28-year-old Kripasindhu so desperately needs.
Unstinted support came from the 150 families in Nilkuthi, Chanchai and neighbouring villages who had helped stitch the amount together.
'We don't mind; we will offer anjali and puja at the other pandals in Chanchai,' said Sangita Goswami, a housewife. 'Let the boy get well.'
There's a problem, though: a kidney transplant costs Rs 2-2.6 lakh.
'Two other puja committees in Chanchai have promised to cut down on the festivities and contribute Rs 20,000,' said Amar Bayen, treasurer of the Nilkuthi committee. 'Also, many other villagers ' some of them agricultural labourers ' will be donating a part of their wages.'
Are the organisers of big-budget Calcutta pujas willing to learn from Nilkuthi'
Most said they would have helped a man in similar distress but ' with their bigger kitties ' wouldn't need to scrap the puja.
'We would have contributed Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh and cut our expenditure ' maybe we would have cancelled the cultural function,' said former mayor Subrata Mukherjee, president of Ekdalia Evergreen Sarbajonin Durgotsab.
But none of the big puja organisers in the city makes any regular contribution to such a cause.
Kripasindhu is lucky. He is extremely popular in the area, Bayen explained. He had scored 72 per cent in his Madhyamik exams in 1997.
In 2001, he earned a diploma in mechanical engineering from Burdwan's MBC Polytechnic College while working as an agricultural labourer to add to the family income. As a supervisor in a private factory, he now earns Rs 2,000 a month. He is married and his wife is expecting.
He was diagnosed with chronic renal failure last month at Burdwan Medical College and Hospital, which referred him to SSKM Hospital. He was admitted there till September 2 and given dialysis.
'The doctors recommended a kidney transplant as soon as possible. To be doubly sure, my family pooled in their savings and took me to Bangalore Kidney Foundation, which confirmed the diagnosis and recommended a transplant,' Kripasindhu said.
'We have spent all our savings,' a worried elder brother, Bhabasindhu, said. 'The villagers have promised help. But we don't know if we can save him.'
Samir Biswas, who played football with Kripasindhu as a boy, isn't giving up. 'I'm saving up,' the farm labourer said. 'He is my childhood friend. I won't let him die so easily.'
Local gram panchayat pradhan Minati Patra said: 'We are trying to raise as much money as we can.'
District magistrate Subrata Gupta praised the villagers' efforts and promised to help if the family approaches him.
Almost all the families in Nilkuthi ' which has a population of over 600 ' are refugees from the 1971 Bangladesh war. They do not own land and make a living by working in the fields and brick kilns or hawking fruits and vegetab- les. Most families earn between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,000 a month.
This is the first time in 18 years they won't be celebrating Durga Puja.