Calcutta, Oct. 21: It is strange, thought Baburam Hela as he entered the male medical ward of the Howrah State General Hospital around 10 am on Sunday, that his son’s bed should be empty, looking too neat to have been slept on.
Just the previous night he had visited Santosh in the second floor ward where he was lying stricken with diarrhoea, his condition worsening by the hour.
Cursory enquiries with the other patients revealed that they knew as little about his son’s whereabouts.
He asked the ward boys and the nurses, only to get evasive replies. “Don’t worry,” a nurse told him, “he must have gone for an X-ray.” A ward boy was less assuring: “He must be around somewhere, I haven’t seen him for some time.”
With no information, Baburam’s worry turned to panic. He raced down the stairs to where other members of his family were waiting. Chandan, Santosh’s elder brother, tried to pacify his father by saying Santosh could not just have “disappeared” and that someone in the hospital would know where he was.
They decided to meet the superintendent, H.K. Chanda, to get to the bottom of the mystery. But until Baburam told him, Chanda had heard nothing about the missing Santosh.
Chanda made enquiries with the hospital staff and lodged a “missing person” FIR with the Howrah police station. In the complaint, the time Santosh went missing has been mentioned as 7.30 am on October 19, though no one seems to have seen him leaving.
By this time, the news had spread and angry people from the locality where Santosh lived, Belilious Road, began gathering at the hospital.
Some of the young ran through the hospital towards Chanda’s room, smashing flowerpots and lights. But the authorities were prepared: police were informed and the arrests began.
Baburam turned to the police, only to be refused by the investigating officer with the argument that the hospital had already lodged a complaint.
“We knew from his response that he would do nothing about it since his disinterest was apparent,” said Anil Mahato, a friend of Santosh.
On Sunday evening and through Monday, members of the family visited the police station to be turned away each time.