New Delhi, May 15 (PTI) Profiles of humaneness in the time of Covid, Himanshu and Twinkle Kalia spend their days between helping the ill get a fighting chance at life and ensuring dignity in death for those who don’t make it.
As the second COVID-19 wave ravages large parts of India -- including the national capital that has seen thousands scramble for oxygen, hospital beds and crematorium spots -- the Kalias, Delhi’s ‘ambulance couple’, ferry the ill to hospital, fetch medicines, arrange funerals and sometimes step in to perform last rites too.
Cloaked in PPE suits, face shields and masks, the Kalias go where even close relatives fear to tread, spending their days tending to people suffering from Covid or those who have died of it and making sure their fleet of 12 ambulances are road ready to tackle any emergency.
'We don't put it in records but in the second wave of coronavirus we have been helping almost 20-25 patients daily reach hospitals. We have performed cremations of 80 people who have died of COVID-19 and helped over 1,000 people in arranging for cremations,' Himanshu told PTI.
It’s all free of course, the 42-year-old hastened to add.
A few days ago, they got a call from Mayur Vihar in east Delhi about a patient who had died in an autorickshaw on the way to hospital, said Twinkle.
The Kalias, who live in Pratap Nagar in north Delhi, reached there quickly, got the body verified by a doctor and helped in the last rites.
'We got a call from Sandeep Mitra whose wife Madhura had collapsed in an autorickshaw while he was taking her to a hospital. He was not getting any help from his society or elsewhere. We reached there, got a doctor to the spot and performed her cremation at the Sarai Kale Khan crematorium,' Twinkle said.
The 39-year-old is a cancer survivor and the couple has two daughters, Japji (13) and Riddhi (7). But personal commitments don’t come in the way of their zeal to help others in these days of India’s most serious health crisis.
At a time ambulances are in short supply and stories of ambulance drivers and owners fleecing those in need make the rounds, the Kalias have publicised the free services of their fleet. Himanshu’s mobile number has been pasted at various places across the city.
As a result, he said, distress calls come in from all over Delhi and also from Ghaziabad and Noida. The word has spread and some hospitals have also started reaching out. Some know him for not just services but also his skills behind the wheel, he said proudly.
'Due to my fast driving, even through traffic, many hospitals call me in emergency situations to save the lives of patients,' he said.
And sometimes the ambulance has to do the job of a hearse.
It’s not an easy existence. There is a fleet of vehicles to maintain, a team of 18 people to support and a home to run. Both Himanshu and Twinkle work as insurance agents and said they spend their earnings in serving humanity.
The ambulance service started in 2002 when his parents-in-law gifted him an ambulance, said Himanshu. It has built up steadily since with the Kalias adding vehicles over the years.
Six of the ambulances are parked at their residence and six elsewhere.
The couple was doing charitable work even before the pandemic struck and has received several awards.
In 2019, Twinkle was awarded the Nari Shakti Puruskar by President Ram Nath Kovind. Four years before that, in 2015, an organisation in Dubai honoured her as the ‘First Woman Ambulance Driver’. In 2016, Himanshu got the ‘Ambulance Man’ award in Malaysia.
Hoping to ramp up their work of facilitating hospital admissions, blood donations and arranging funerals, Himanshu and Twinkle said they have expanded their team.
As millions of Indians battle infection and death, there are many more miles to go and hurdles to cross for this intrepid couple. PTI DPM MV MIN MIN MIN