Saturday, February 02, 2008

Looking ahead

Tapan Jana of Orissa lost a leg when a building collapsed near the Boat Jetty four months ago. Fitted with an artificial leg, he is striving to move on in life

By Shevlin Sebastian

September 13, 2007, was just another day for Tapan Jana, 22. He was working as a labourer for the Kunnel Group at Thevara jetty. At 7 p.m., he returned to the house, on Cannonshed Road, beside the Indian Coffee House, with his twenty-year-old cousins, Basudev and Ranjit Mallick. “I felt happy,” says Tapan. “I was earning well [Rs 140 per day] and the people here were nice.”

After bantering with the other Oriyas present, Tapan had his bath and dinner and went to sleep early: at 9 p.m. At 11.20 p.m., his life changed forever. The 90-year-old building collapsed in a heap. There were 30 Oriyas sleeping in the main room. While several managed to flee, Reshmi Ranjan Dalai, 24, and Babuli Jana, 20, who were sleeping next to a wall, were trapped underneath and died. On the other side of the room, an iron beam fell on Tapan’s right leg.

“The room was full of dust,” says Ranjit. “I could hear Tapan calling me by my nickname, ‘Kashia, Kashia, something has fallen on my leg’, but I could not see him in the darkness.” It was only after the fire force removed the debris, during a five-hour operation, that Tapan could be rescued.

But his leg looked in bad shape. Says orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Sabin Viswanath, 40, of Specialists’ Hospital: “In a leg injury like Tapan’s, the muscles and the blood vessels are crushed and the bone is fractured. Soon, there will be a natural degeneration of the tissues. This releases toxins, which can endanger the life of the person. So, it is better to save the life than the limb.” A couple of days after the incident, Tapan’s leg was amputated above the knee.

“One day, I was fit and healthy,” says Tapan. “The next day I did not have a leg.” Not surprisingly, Tapan felt suicidal. The days passed in a blur of despair and hopelessness. But thankfully, for him, help was at hand in the form of the hospital’s clinical psychologist, Sindhu Ajith, 35.

“I had several counseling sessions with Tapan,” says Sindhu. “I told him that with the help of an artificial limb, he would be able to lead a normal life. And slowly, his gloomy mood lifted.”

Sindhu says the mind plays a vital role during this vulnerable time. “Your immunity goes up if you have a positive attitude,” she says. She also played a masterstroke: she asked Tapan to provide counseling to other accident victims in the hospital, who were feeling depressed. “Tapan realised there were others like him and there was no need to feel sad,” says Sindhu. Matron K.V. Baby, 54, says, “He has developed a belief that he can move ahead in life.”

But Tapan says he suffers from occasional nightmares. “I have dreams where people are fighting each other and in the process somebody is hitting me,” he says. “I awaken, feeling fearful. This happens regularly.”

Sindhu says that Tapan is probably going through the last stages of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “It will go away after a while,” she says.

What has been a mental solace for Tapan is that building owner, Mathen L. Chakola, 43, and Kunnel Constructions, where Tapan worked, have already paid Rs 92,000 for hospital expenses, including Rs 800 per week as a sort of wages for Basudev, who has been a constant companion of Tapan since the accident. “The welfare and security of our employees are very important to us,” says Anthony Kunnel, 47, managing director of the Kunnel Group.

Mathen has also paid Rs 3 lakh each to the family of the two Oriyas who died and deposited a Rs 3.5 lakh compensation cheque to District Collector A.P.M. Mohammed Hanish for Tapan. “I am doing this out of humanitarian considerations,” says Mathen. “Since it is a sheer accident, there are no legal necessities and, more so, they were staying in my house in an informal arrangement.”

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, Tapan was fitted with an artificial leg. In the second-floor ward of the Specialists’ Hospital, dressed in a brown T-shirt and trousers, Tapan walks easily up and down the corridor, a smile creasing his face. It is difficult to believe he is using an artificial leg.

A few days ago, Hanish gave a cheque of Rs 75,000 to the hospital, again a contribution by Mathen Chakola, as payment for the leg.

At this moment, there are a few more outstanding medical, canteen and other bills, but the Deputy Director of Specialists’ Hospital, Dr Sabin Viswanath, says these will be waived off. Within a few days, Tapan will be able to leave for Orissa. Collector Hanish says that he will give the cheque on the day Tapan leaves and is hopeful the boy will be able to use the money wisely to rebuild his life.

As for Tapan he is clear about what he wants to do with the money. “I want to open a shop in my village of Bhusandpur Sasan,” he says.

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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