We might have banned the red beacon light on VIP vehicles, but that's not done much to curb the VIP culture that puts citizens in hour-long traffic jams just to give a select few a comfortable ride uninterrupted by traffic. Even people dying during the wait has done nothing to change this practice.
Perhaps all those Important Persons could learn a lesson or two from Binu Appukkuttan and Vinod Kumar, who put their KSRTC bus into service so that a young child could get the medical treatment she urgently needed.
For the passengers on the Kottayam-bound bus on Saturday night, conductor Binu and bus driver Vinod Kumar were no less than saviours.
The duo had started their journey in the morning from Changanassery to Thiruvananthapuram. During the return journey, the bus that was running late, reached Moovattupuzha a little after 10 pm.
Recalling the incident, Binu, who has been in service for the past 7 years, tells TNM, "A couple and their 4-year-old girl child got into the bus from Moovattupuzha. By then there were only some 7 passengers on the bus. A few minutes later, after we crossed Koothattukulam, the child began to show symptoms of an epileptic fit and the parents were visibly concerned. When I enquired, they said that it was the first time the child had fallen ill. They didn't know what to do and began to wail."
Binu decided that the child required immediate medical care and there was no way the family could manage to get to the hospital on their own at that hour.
“I knew there was no way the parents could do anything immediately. They were distraught at the girl's condition. We drove to the nearest hospital and the doctor said that the child's condition was critical and that we needed to take her to Kottayam Medical College in under an hour. By then we had already spent an hour at the hospital," Binu explains.
The thought of abandoning the family at the hospital did not occur to Binu and Vinod at all. After all, if a human does not help others in distress, who else will? Binu asks.
"We could have either dropped them off on the road or even gone ahead with our service after taking them to the hospital. But we didn't feel like doing that. When the doctor said that the kid needs to be taken to the Medical College, we knew that the family's financial condition did not allow them to hire a taxi," Binu says.
Since the road to the Medical College was too narrow for a bus to go, they dropped off the family a few kilometers away in Ettumanoor (Kottayam). The staff and the rest of the passengers pooled in money so that the family could hire an autorickshaw.
All this while, both the parents continued to cry fearing for their child, Binu remembers. Not just Binu and Vinod, the passengers on the bus too did their bit.
Driver Vinod Kumar
While a few other passengers came up to offer help to the family, some others offered their silent support. Almost all the passengers waited outside the casualty ward for the doctor and helped the family hail an autorickshaw later.
"When we told the passengers there was no way the family could manage alone, no one objected," Binu says.
Back home at 4 am on Sunday, after working for almost 24 hours continuously, Binu narrated the incident to his wife and mother. But there was one missing link- neither did he know the details of the family, nor was he aware what happened to the child.
"Strange are the ways of life. We (KSRTC employees) see a lot of people daily... different kinds of people from various walks of life. This was one family who needed our help,” Binu says.
Binu and Vinod’s tale of compassion would never have been known to anyone if not for a passenger who narrated the tale to Malayala Manorama. On that bus that night was AR Surendran, private secretary to former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.
"The parents were not from a financially well-off family. The child's health was deteriorating, and she looked weak. All of us (other passengers) waited at the Casualty ward till the doctor came. I have no words to describe the kind of humanitarian work Binu and Vinod did. The story is very cinema-like, isn't it? There are people who do humanitarian work for publicity, but here are two people who silently did what is expected of humans," Surendran said.
On Monday evening, Transport Minister Thomas Chandy declared a reward of Rs 25,000 each for the duo for their humanitarian act, from his salary.
"The Minister called me on my phone late on Monday evening to congratulate me. I was taken aback. There had been numerous such instances, but I will never forget this one episode. There was a time when we (in the same bus) took a child to a hospital when a window broke and a glass piece lodged in her eye. In another instance, we saw a man getting out of the bus when a woman passenger got down. He had taken a ticket to a different place. It was late in the night and we knew she was in danger. We stopped the bus, kept the headlight on until we saw her walking into her house," Binu says.
"When Minister Thomas Chandy called me, I was overwhelmed. We didn't do it expecting praise, but were doing our duty. Minister appreciated us and told us that we must continue making KSRTC proud," Vinod says.
He adds: "Sadly, after all this, we do not know any whereabouts of the family. Though I had asked the father's name then, it later skipped my mind. So tomorrow, we are planning to go to the hospital and check the records. They will have contact details of the family," said Vinod.