Awarded the Padma Shri in 2017, Karimul Haque began helping the sick commute to the hospital in his village. But his reason will bring you to tears.
Jugaad – a flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way.
The reason I start with this definition of a colloquial Hindi term is only because the protagonist of my story—Karimul Haque (55), who is also referred to as ‘Ambulance Dada’—truly embodies the meaning of the word jugaad.
Losing his mother due to the non-availability of an ambulance in time led him to start his own motorcycle ambulance in 1998. Since then he has ferried over 5,500 patients from across 20 villages in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district. In 2017, Karimul was also awarded with a Padma Shri for his service. Karimul is a stellar example of the phrase – ‘service above self’.
No one should die for lack of treatment
Having seen his mother pass away due to lack of timely access to treatment, Karimul says that his constant thought was to find a way to ensure that this does not happen to anyone else. He says, “It was just another day when I was working in the tea garden. I saw a fellow worker collapse and without thinking about it, I put him on my motorbike, tied him to me and took him to the nearest hospital.” It worked and Karimul managed to save his life.
“That incident was all the push I needed. I decided to use my motorbike to ferry those in need,” he says, adding, “I realised that in my area, a motorbike works better than a van or a full ambulance. The reason why a bike ambulance works best in this area is because the roads are not conducive for a larger vehicle to cross and sometimes even the rivers overflow. It is easiest to maneuver a motorbike in these conditions.”
‘People would mock and even laugh at my face’
Since the ambulance that Karimul operates is not one that follows conventional norms, he says he was often mocked and even laughed at. “But once they saw the work that I was able to do and the number of people I was able to help, people’s perception started to change,” he says. Besides always being there for people when he is called upon, Karimul also seems to always have a solution to the problems people come to him with.
Not just an ambulance service provider
With the passage of time, Karimul and his sons also got trained in administering basic first aid to patients. He says, “Today, I also organise regular health camps in the village. The kind of poverty that the villagers live in often stops them from visiting a doctor or the hospital. With these camps, many small niggling health issues are being corrected.”
Karimul has also gone one step further and converted a part of the land his house is built on to serve as a hospital. “We have tie-ups with doctors who also do video consultations now. Basic tests like sugar and blood pressure are also conducted at the hospital. In the case of an emergency, I am also trained to administer saline drips,” he says.
Dr Soumen Mondal, a general surgeon practicing in Jalpaiguri says, “I have known ‘Ambulance Dada’ – Karimul since 2013. Not just dedicated but he is also someone who will go out of his way to help those in need. I have personally trained him in many of the basic first aid techniques and often help through video consults as well.”
Even busier during the pandemic
At a time when a majority of us stayed indoors during the lockdown period, Karimul and his sons have been busy. “Besides ferrying patients to the hospital on my motorbike ambulance, we also saw that many of them were not even able to afford one meal a day. That was when we decided to start supplying rice to as many people as we could,” says Karimul.
So far close to 1,000 people have benefitted by the rice that Karimul and his family have distributed and another 200 families have been provided with cooked food. “These are migrant labourers, and with no work, they had no income whatsoever. We started cooking at home and serving these families,” says Raju, the elder son of Karimul.
He goes on, “Now people know baba (Karimul) and we also get donations and sponsorships. We have used the money to buy and provide blankets and food to those in need near our village.”
Raju ends the conversation by saying, “We have grown up seeing him readily available to everyone at whatever time they needed. Even though he is in his 50s, the energy he has sometimes even puts me to shame.”
This nine-times over grandfather says, “I may be 55 years of age but mentally and even physically I am not a day older than 30. It is my duty to serve those in need and will do so until the day I can’t any more.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)