Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Poor Man And His Sick Son [Time To Change!]

This incident happened a few days ago and the guilt is still fresh in my mind, hence I'm writing this post. Though I question what my blogging about this man will do to help him, I also believe that my staying mum will certainly not help him either. Hence, perhaps my act of writing about this, and someone's act of reading about this may just help, in some small way. Let's see...


A few days ago I went to college and attended two dull lectures as usual. Our Professor, who is also the Director of the institute, took a few extra minutes of our lunch break, as a result of which the class became restless. As soon as he was done and walked out the door, everyone jumped to their feet and stashed registers and pens in their bags to leave.

"Ek minute, rukooo!" (One minute, stop!) a hoarse voice lamentably implored from where our Director had been standing only minutes before. As we turned around to look at the blackboard, we saw a short, stout and dark middle-aged man in ragged clothes standing with his arms flailing, looking nervous. "Please, ek minute, please rukoo! Bahut zaroori baat karni hai!" (Please, one minute, please stop! Have something very important to say!) he continued, his voice trembling.

Now, we're a class of over 40 students. Some of us hesitantly went back to our seats to hear what this man had to say. However, some of my classmates took one look at the man and judged that what he was saying wasn't important enough to be considered (being in the same institute for 2 years, they could easily recognize who the powerful in our department were and hence deserved the respect of being heard.) Since this man was clearly not from our academic department and his clothes and manner of speaking suggested he wasn't important, they walked out the door as if he hadn't existed. The man watched their cold backs walking out the door and beseeched, "Please! Ek minute! Please!" but to no avail.

Once the footsteps of those that had walked out had faded, the man turned his eyes to those that were still seated. About twenty students remained. His eyes were red and damp. Not just damp, but watery and swollen, as if he'd been crying for many days. He looked at us, teary-eyed, folded his hands in supplication, and earnestly entreated,

"Please bachchon, meri madad karo...Mera beta bahut beemaar hai...Usko hamne hospital mein operation karaya 50,000 rupaiye ka par unhone galat ilaaj kiya, uska galat kaan ka ilaaj hua aur woh paralysed ho gaya. Uske kaan mein dalne ki cheez bhi kharaab ho gayi. Phir humne use doosre hospital mein operation karaya par wahaan uski ilaaj mein 1,50,000 ka kharcha hai. Par hum is operation ke liye paise nahin jod sakte. Humne Rotary Club se baat ki hai, unhone 1,00,000 diye hain, Humne aur colleges se bhi 25,000 rupaiye ki maang ki hai. Ab sirf aapka college rahta hai. Humne aapke Director se permission li hai, unhone kaha hai ki hum aaj ki class ke baad aap logon se maangne aa sakte hain. Please meri help kijiye. Mere bete ki jaan ka sawaal hai... Please aap jitna bhi de sakte hain, please!"

(Please, children, help me...My son is very sick...We paid 50,000 rupees for his operation in a hospital but they did it wrong, they did the wrong treatment of the wrong ear and he became paralysed. Even the device they gave to keep in his ear is not working. Then we went to get his operation done in another hospital but there the expense is 1,50,000 rupees. We cannot arrange for so much money for this operation. We have spoken to the Rotary Club, they have agreed to give 1,00,000 for this operation and students from other neighbouring colleges have agreed to give 25,000. Only your college is left. I have taken permission from your Director and he said that I could come speak to you after your class and ask you. Please help me. This is for my son's life, please donate anything you can, please!")

Something about the way he spoke made me realise that this was no fraud. He was genuinely distressed, extremely poor and clearly a very responsible father. I could only imagine how difficult it would be to be in his position; to not be able to afford your child's medical bills and to be faced with the prospect of your child going untreated as a result of your poverty. He deserved our sympathy and support.
Here comes the shocker in the story: The class's highest-scoring, frontbencher student asked to see any "documents" and the man showed him 2 laminated copies of letters from the Rotary Club saying that they were partially contributing to his son's operation bills. After reading these, Mr. Frontbencher decided not to contribute. As the poor man made his way around to collect money, one student contributed 500 rupees, another contributed 200 rupees, and 3 others (including myself) contributed 100 rupees each. That makes a total of 1000 rupees. The rest either politely declined as he approached them or ran out the door before he could approach him, thus showing him more cruel, cold backs.

He profusely thanked those of us that had contributed and walked out, head lowered and shoulders drooping into the empty hallway. It is difficult for a person who is not used to begging to have to beg. What I fail to understand is why didn't I contribute 500 rupees? And why didn't all 40 of us contribute at least 50 rupees each? Alas, us middle-class human beings, ensconced by all kinds of insurance schemes, don't understand how difficult unexpected medical bills can be when you're poor.
In fact, I too only understood the man's situation when the unnamed guilt that seeped into my heart refused to go away. Upon being forced into reflection, I accepted this guilty feeling stemmed from realizing how selfish and stupid I'd been and how vacuous we as postgraduate students were to refuse to help. Shame on our education, shame on our adulthood and shame on everything dynamic we 'youth' are supposed to stand for...

From the above incident, I hope I have drawn attention to the fact that sudden healthcare costs (e.g. major operations) are prohibitively expensive for the poorer sections of society.

It is Time to Change this situation and I wish to provide a helping hand to this cause (and to people like the poor man in the above incident) by constructing the following:

- A non-profit website should be set up where poor people ("Requesters") can explain their medical issues -with descriptions, pictures, etc - that require urgent funding. Visitors to the website who wish to donate ("Donors") can then make direct donations to foot their medical bills. (Hopefully even sponsors can make donations.)
- Any person who has a genuine medical problem (and his/her relatives who are making the request) should first be verified before their request is uploaded onto the website - and the contact details of the doctors and hospitals in question should also be disclosed so that frauds and scams are avoided.
- Donations can be of any value i.e. even rupees 50... and should be available to be made in all forms - i.e. Cash (the person's relatives could come collect it), Credit/Debit card, Cheque, etc.
- There should also be an option of lending money to the poor person (under condition that he pays it back within, say 1-3 years), without interest or with a very low rate of interest. This option should only be made available if the Requester is comfortable with paying back that amount. This option should also only be introduced if the money cannot be raised by donation means. This option is to encourage people who normally wouldn't donate more than 100 or 500 to consider loaning 5000 (with the surety that they'll be returned 5000 within a year, and will hence only make a loss of 500 on it in terms of foregone interest).
- Post-treatment details should also be uploaded onto the site, so that the donors have an incentive to take interest in a stranger's medical case (as they can understand what they're helping to pay for).

I don't know if any NGOs are already working like this. If there are... I hope that they are successful and would raise awareness so they can also reach out to poor fathers like the man who had to come begging to my college on Monday.

This post is an entry in a contest, Time to Change! ("If you could change something around you, what would it be?"), organized by Stayfree.  For further details check out:


  1. Well written! Really NGOs should do something about it but it is people like us who should fund them coz I think a few hundreds can make a difference!

    1. Thank you Jen! Exactly - a few hundreds is all it takes, but unfortunately I think the collection mechanism is so flawed that it doesn't take place soon enough or properly!

  2. Brought tears to my eyes, Yes i agree to every word u mentioned.

    1. Thank you for the feedback and support Shilpi!

  3. Very touching post. Your idea of a website is very good except, I would suggest you go through an established NGO. Not only do they know the laws of the country, their good reputation makes people trust them enough to donate. Otherwise, there'd be website scams all over the place. Another thing you could do is get together with other like minded people and come up with ideas as to how NGO donations could reach people like the person in your story.

    1. Thank you for the feedback KayEm! Hopefully this idea can be put into practice successfully by an established NGO.

  4. Hello dear, feel touched by your post. I too have gone through many such class-room cases that you described. very true that healthcare needs an overhaul in India. In many cases people die due to lack of fund.
    As for your first suggestion- "A non-profit website should.....", such sites are already working. I had availed help of one such site, look here- . For more such NGOs or sites, you may contact Chandni Parekh on twitter-!/FundACause She has loads of information on such matters (NGOs, fund help etc.). You can also get in touch with her on mail- .
    NICE post, and Congrats for winning....

    1. Thank you Shantinath for that link to that wonderful organization - Chain Therapy!! Am elated to find an organization working on health matters and from what I can read of their business model, it's exactly as I had wanted. Amazing!
      I will be volunteering with an NGO over the next few months, will definitely get in touch with Ms. Chandni Parekh. Thank you for the excellent information!

  5. Congratulations.

    If you seriously wanted to make a change. Do look at the NGO model


    1. Thanks Mukesh! I just checked out Rang De's website and am very impressed...Had no idea that there were NGOs facilitating microcredit online. These definitely deserve more publicity! Thank you for the information, will definitely keep Rang De in mind when I do social work.

  6. Aww :(
    I do hope that the man did collect the money, but then again,who knows...
    Lovely, touching post.
    And congrats x

    1. I know - when he had left I was left praying that he'd find the money, but then I thought to myself, "Why am I 'praying'? Wasn't this a simple matter of raising funds?? Wasn't this in my hands just a few minutes ago? All I had to do was exhort my classmates to cough up Rs. 100, but I hadn't had the courage to speak up!" Hence my praying felt hypocritical.
      Thanks for the feedback Blahblaholic!


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