Accidents reduce victims to statistics in news reports. But those who knew 44-year-old VD Gireesh and 47-year-old VR Baiju, the driver and conductor of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) bus that met with a horrific accident in Avinashi, Tirupur district of Tamil Nadu, on Thursday morning, will always remember their kindheartedness. The incident claimed the lives of 19 persons, including the two of them.
Both Gireesh and Baiju were from the Ernakulam Kerala RTC Unit. In 2018, the duo received appreciation from the RTC department for their quick thinking and generosity. On June 3 that year, the two of them were in charge of the Bengaluru-Ernakulam bus when a passenger, Dr Kavitha, fainted. An epilepsy patient, Kavitha had boarded the bus from Thrissur and had started feeling uneasy on the way. She fainted when the bus was in Hosur at around 5 am.
Girish and Baiju did not hesitate, and took her to a hospital nearby. Not only that, one of them waited till the passenger's relatives arrived at the hospital. Their act of kindness won them the love of the passengers and also the media at the time.
The RTC also recognised their efforts.
" On June 3, 2018, a passenger named Dr Kavitha, who boarded from Thrissur in bus number RS 789, felt uneasiness and fainted near Hosur at 5 am. She was taken to a nearby hospital by the staff, VR Baiju and VD Gireesh. They stayed there till the relatives arrived.Their kind act was appreciated by the media and the passengers a lot. Gireesh, who was the driver, and Baiju, the driver-cum-conductor, acted in time and helped maintain the good reputation of Kerala RTC. We appreciate them," reads a circular dated 26 June, 2018 from Tomin J Thachankary, Chairperson and Managing Director of Kerala RTC.
A Facebook page 'KSRTC Fans' carries a detailed account of the incident.
"Dr Kavitha was traveling on the bus on 3 June, 2018. She boarded the Ernakulam-Bangalore Volvo bus from Thrissur. Baiju, a staff of the bus, described the incident like this: It was early morning when someone came to the front of the bus and asked for a key* to give a fellow passenger who was having an epileptic attack. I gave the key. However, after a while, two persons told me that there was no improvement in the condition of the passenger and that we need to take her to the hospital. The other passengers also unanimously agreed with this. We had reached Hosur by then. We diverted the bus and went to Janani Hospital on the highway."
The post further adds that the bus staff contacted the Bengaluru depot and that they were allowed to stay at the hospital. The staff also contacted the Thrissur depot and they permitted them to pay a certain amount to the hospital. The hospital authorities asked somebody to stay at the hospital, and Baiju stayed there while Gireesh left with the remaining passengers. By 9 am, Kavitha's relatives arrived and shifted her to another hospital. They dropped Baiju at the railway station where he boarded a train to the bus depot.
Speaking to TNM following the tragic incident on Thursday, VM Thajudeen Sahib, Ernakulam District Transport Officer, said, "Kerala RTC lost two of its most valuable employees."
"When private buses would go on strike, Gireesh and Baiju would volunteer to run extra trips in order to avoid any inconvenience to the passengers. They were hardworking and dedicated to their profession," Thajudeen added.
Posters commemorating the death of Baiju and Gireesh have been put up at the Kerala RTC bus station in Kochi. “They were like friends to us,” a staff, who spoke to Manorama, remembered the two.
In April 2019, too, Baiju had risen to the occasion when he and another conductor-driver Antony Rocha volunteered to drive for more than 24 hours in order to avoid any cancellation and upset the plans of about 50 passengers.
On Thursday, around 3.15 am, a lorry rammed into the Kerala RTC bus, which had Gireesh, Baiju and 48 passengers. According to reports, the lorry hit the median on the highway, causing the container it was carrying to detach and fall on the bus. The bus, especially the right side of it, was completely damaged.