I have one full-time job and by the time the clock strikes 6.00 pm, I feel exhausted. The protagonist of my story is 41-year-old Manjunath Ningappa Pujari, a resident of Belgaum, Karnataka. He is better known to many as the nocturnal auto ambulance man. He works THREE jobs each day.
“My day begins at 6.00 am when I start ferrying passengers in my auto. I do that until 9.00 am and then head to the IL&FS office where I work as an office assistant until 6.30 pm. Post this I have also taken on a part-time role which keeps me occupied until about 9.00 pm. After that, my auto and I am available for any passenger who needs to be taken to the hospital any time at night,” he says.
The money that Manjunath makes working at IL&FS, which is about Rs 18,000, goes towards his maintaining his house and family, which consists of his mother, wife and son. The rest of the money he earns from driving the auto and doing the part-time job is spent on the upkeep of the auto, and a part of it is donated to an NGO called Ashraya Foundation.
“So far I would have ferried more than 300 patients to the hospitals on various occasions,” he tells me.
From pregnant women to those who have suffered a heart attack, Manjunath has ferried all kinds of patients to the hospital in his auto ambulance. More recently, he has also been taking COVID-19 patients to the hospital.
Speaking about the support that his wife extends to him, he says, “Rajeshwari [his wife] is my backbone. I would not be able to do any of this if not for her. On several occasions, even if I fail to hear the phone ring, she answers it and ensures that I go and attend to the patient.”
Why An Auto Ambulance service?
Almost a decade ago, when Manjunath did not own a vehicle of his own, a pregnant woman came by asking to be taken to the hospital immediately. Recollecting that time, he says, “I had to ask my friends for their vehicle and by the time I could get around to arranging things two hours had gone by. Though I took that lady and got her admitted, I couldn’t help wondering how much smoother things would have been for her if I had my own vehicle.”
It was this incident that triggered the need to both invest in a vehicle of his own and start an auto ambulance service that people could rely on.
He tells me that even his idea of investing in an auto was so that the money he would spend on its upkeep would be lesser than what a car would need. “The idea was to make money by ferrying passengers in the mornings and use that money for the upkeep of the auto,” he says.
His contribution to society was appreciated so much by his colleagues and friends that they even nominated him for an ‘India Book of Records’ certificate. “I was very happy with the recognition and it only motivates me to do more,” he says with a smile that reaches his eyes.
Dreams Crushed But A Spirit that Soars
A little into our conversation, Manjunath mentions that he once dreamt of serving the nation by getting recruited by the Indian Army. But he suffered a nasty accident in 2003 when the vehicle he was traveling in flipped over resulting in his femur bone breaking in more than three places and permanently damaging his left arm. “I have forgotten that dream. But in doing what I do now, I am also serving people,” he says.
The physical trauma of the accident remains. Even today Manjunath finds it difficult to carry heavy objects and walk normally.
A Desire To Help Even After His Death
“I have already pledged my body to medical research at the KLE hospital,” he says. His goal is to be of use even after he passes away. A regular blood donor, Manjunath says he’s donated blood more than 40 times so far.
He is also an active COVID-19 vaccine trial participant who gets a call every few days from the authorities to check on his vitals and if he is displaying any symptoms that they should be aware of.
“I am not afraid of COVID. Unfortunately, it took my father away from me, and I intend to do all I can to be a part of those who are working to find its cure. It is the least I can do,” he tells me.
While his dream was to be in uniform and serve the nation, what he is doing now is truly service before self. If you are inspired by Manjunath’s story and wish to reach out to him, help him, or maybe just have a conversation with him, he is available at 9964375115, 9449014362.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)