The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A one-room home left only with playthings
Ashraf, Shabana's father. Picture by Amit Datta

Calcutta, Oct. 14: A half-empty bottle of Woodward’s Gripe Water sits atop a bed in a one-room home in Noor Md Munshi Lane, Tikiapara.

But there is not a baby in sight.

Sixth-month-old Shabana Parveen left home on Monday morning and returned dead in the afternoon.

The baby had been suffering from high fever and diarrhoea since Saturday. Admitted to a Howrah hospital, she was discharged on Sunday morning. But that very night, she took ill again, prompting her parents, Ashraf and Naseema, to rush her to the hospital once more. Little Shabana —with a saline drip still attached to her weakened arm — was referred to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital. Her parents borrowed Rs 500 from a local factory to make the trip.

When they reached the hospital after braving a rally, Ashraf was already down Rs 80, which he had paid the taxi driver. Shabana was suffering convulsions. A “sister’s” stethoscope was enough to determine “kidney failure” and a demand for “Rs 1,000” was made for admission.

“What could we do then' We had no choice but to leave. We are poor after all,” said 22-year-old Ashraf. “The doctors didn’t even examine her properly. That was the first time we had heard anything about kidney failure.”

Hailing a bus, they reached home around 4.30 pm with a limp Shabana. Born April 24, 2003, she was buried at 10 am today at a nearby cemetery.

Tiny clothes, waiting for little Shabana to grow into them, have been returned to their boxes in the cramped room that is home to 12. Despondent relatives huddle around the parents, offering solace. Naseema, hardly 18 years old herself, stands on a bed, occupying half the home, to take out her child’s playthings.

A plastic elephant was Shabana’s favourite toy — preferred to even the huge yellow teddy bear that stills sports its plastic wrapping — though it would have been almost as large as the child.

“She would put the trunk in her mouth and laugh,” relives the mother.

Honey to sweeten her pacifier, a bright yellow car, a six-ounce baby bottle, wheat-apple Cerelac — she was just being weaned — and a bottle of AD baby oil lie scattered around the room.

“My son doted on her. He would buy her small things everyday… She was the first child after all,” says Anwari Begum, Shabana’s grandmother.

“Everyone would call her a little doll. She had never taken ill before. Saturday was the first time,” said the parents.

A few winding paths and open drains away, in the dingy lane off Belilious Road, the mood is heavy. Local leaders are gearing up to mount a protest against the Howrah Municipality’s failure to clear away the rainwater.

“Since the Pujas, this whole area has been flooded. The drains have not been cleaned in months. Water from five wards passes through this low-lying area,” cry Md Salauddin and Sheikh Islamuddin, local Congress leaders.

Many children have been admitted to a local nursing home, suffering from diarrhoea, they add. “But those who can’t afford it have no choice but to depend on the hospitals.”

A meeting has been called tomorrow morning to decide the course of action — there is a smell of politics in the air.

Back inside the hovel, the family grieves — not blaming anyone for their misfortune.

“My child is gone. There is no bringing her back,” whispers Naseema.

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