A man in blue check-shirt, bewildered by the glare of television cameras and the flurry of questions fired at him. “What’s your name' What’s your son’s name' How old was he' How do you feel…” And then: “Don’t leave the hospital till Didi (Mamata Banerjee) arrives” — this from a local Trinamul Congress leader.
Amidst all this, Sunil Kumar Singh, a trader from the Dhapa area, stared steadfastly at a bundle of brown — his 14-day-old son, Manoj, swathed in a sheet. He died on Monday afternoon, after struggling to survive for seven days in B.C. Roy Memorial Hospital for Children. “My son was refused admission in two hospitals. The doctors told me his condition was serious, but even this morning, I bought medicines worth Rs 900 for him,” mumbled Sunil.
He was not alone in his grief. Thirteen other parents have suffered similarly over the past two days at the Narkeldanga hospital. Take Sanjoy Dutta, father of two-year-old Shuvam. Sitting alone, staring at nothing in particular, as ward boys and political activists demonstrated in front of the hospital, he slowly said: “What is the use of doing all this now' My son will not come back to me… For the past few days, I have been asking the authorities to shift my son to another hospital. But they said no one would admit such a case.”
With news of the baby deaths spreading swiftly, the hospital resembled a cauldron of confusion. “Bed ebong oxygener aubhaber jonyo haspataley bhorti sthogito kora holo (Due to lack of beds and oxygen, admission to the hospital has been suspended),” read the notice on a blackboard on Monday afternoon. Hours later, the word “sthogito” (suspended) was not to be found. “Admissions have been restricted, not suspended,” explained superintendent Anup Mandal.
Many parents stayed on with their ailing children. “We have nowhere else to go,” they pleaded. Some others, like Shibu Hari, a resident of Ultadanga, had had enough. “I had admitted my six-year-old daughter Rakhi last week. But seeing all this, I have decided to pay a bond and take her home.” He was joined by Nasir of Serampore, determined to shift his child out. “Even if I am desperate, I will never come back to this hell-hole,” he cried.
Superintendent Mandal denied knowledge of an exodus, but conceded that admissions on Monday had dropped to “just 17”, as opposed to around 40 “on a normal day”.