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Ambulance Dada: India’s new Padam Shri

Kolkata: He is simple, and speaks broken Hindi. He earns only Rs 4000 a month and sets aside one-fourth of his earning for public service. He bikes down beaten tracks of Jalpaiguri to reach hospitals on time. Meet the now Padma Shri Karimul Haq or the fondly called Ambulance dada, who has been selflessly ferrying patients from in and around his village Dhulabari to the hospitals in Jalpaiguri and Siliguri for the past 15 years.

Be it late at night or early wee hours, Haq doesn’t bat an eyelid when he gets a call from those in need. He has crossed rivers, fended off bears and elephants while traversing the jungles with patients tied on to his back as he sped off to the nearest hospitals, which of course is, miles away from his village. But none of the difficulties faced has made him say no to a patient calling him in need.

But, the selfless man has no idea about the importance of fourth highest civilian award in India— Padam Shri, which has been given to likes of Virat Kohli this year.

“I don’t know what this award means. It must be a huge one. A lot of people are calling me. Even the SDO has congratulated me. Babu (the owner of the tea garden he works for) has called me and hugged me. All that I know is that I am just serving the people of my area. I don’t want anyone to lose their loved ones,” he says, as he is getting his bike refuelled at a petrol pump after ferrying a patient.

Haq had lost his moment, on a fateful night. The fact that he couldn’t afford to hire an ambulance for his mother, somehow hit him hard. “One day, one of my co-worker, got injured in the tea garden. So, I had to rush him to the hospital on babu’s bike. That gave me an idea – a bike could be used as a makeshift ambulance. I took a loan and brought a bike, circulated my number to nearby mosques, temples and clubs, so that people knew that I was there to take their loved ones to hospital when needed.”

It was definitely not an easy journey for him. The phones kept ringing and with time more and more people began seeking his help. Till date, he has reached out to 4000 patients from in and around Dhulabari. “I set aside Rs 1000 from my earning. But that also used to run short. People that I take to the hospital are also poor. But that never stopped me from discontinuing my 24×7 ambulance service. And as time passed by, I from Karim, graduated  to being known as ambulance dada,” he says with great simplicity.

When he is asked, didn’t it ever pinch him that being a poor man himself; he shouldn’t be setting aside that amount? His answer leaves you bowled. “Didi, obhaab, to shob shomai thakey, taar maaney noi je aami karor shahojjo na kori (Crisis is a way of life for us. It in no way can stop me from helping someone). I have never cringed shelling out that money for my people,” he says.Haq, in these 15 years of selfless service has even taken a training to provide first aid. “I can take care of small medical issues, had to get myself trained. Now, things are getting better for Ambulance dada you see. Bajaj Motors has even gifted me a bike with a makeshift ambulance,” he adds.

On being asked, what now? He says, “I have dedicated my life to those in need. Even I don’t get many volunteers to help me. My son pitches in when I can’t handle a case all by myself. To kya? Kobi guru bola na ekla cholo re… tai korchi, dekho (So, what if no one comes to my call, as Tagore said, Ekla Chalo re).

Guess that is what has kept Ambulance Dada going, who has even dedicated his Padma Shri to the people of his region, to the people of Bengal.

More power to people like him!

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