In August 2020, 50-year-old Tariq Ahmad Patloo, a resident of Dal Lake in Srinagar, tested positive for COVID-19. “I was abandoned by my neighbours and community that time,” he says. Having spent his entire life in the area, the attitude of those around him left him heartbroken. Channelising this sense of abandonment, Tariq has made Srinagar’s first ‘shikara’ ambulance.
Speaking to The Better India, Tariq says, “I cannot blame my community either. At the time I tested positive, there was so much misinformation about the virus — everyone was scared and protecting themselves.” Even his family members were subjected to trauma. The shikarawalas in the area refused to ferry his wife, and even vegetable vendors refused to provide the family with any produce. “There was far too much fear amongst people,” he recalls.
He adds, “I started showing symptoms and self-isolated for the first few days, but my health deteriorated and I had to be taken to the hospital. At this time, not one person, even those who were my friends, came forward to help.”
Tariq then contacted his brother, who stays in another part of Srinagar, to come and take him to the hospital. He was admitted for almost two weeks, and during this period, kept thinking of what he could do to change the situation.
“All through the time I was at the hospital, I kept thinking of what I could do for my community. There was a lot of stigma around COVID-19 and I wanted to change that,” he says. Wanting to discuss the idea with someone in a position of authority, Tariq reached out to Dr Niveditha P Haran, who is a member of an expert committee on Dal Lake.
“I knew her because of my social work. She also runs a trust called Satya Rekha, and I got some financial help from them to start work on the shikara ambulance,” he says. Tariq himself designed the ambulance, and did so keeping in mind all the problems that those who live in the area face. “Where we live is anyway cut off from the mainland and with COVID-19, things have only become harder for us,” he says.
Srinagar’s first shikara ambulance
It took Tariq close to a month to design this ambulance. He says, “The purpose of this shikara is different, and therefore a lot of thought had to go into it. It needs to have adequate space for all the medical equipment and enough room to ferry patients and family members.” Tariq says that around 12 people can be accommodated on his shikara. A motor has also been attached to ensure quick movement of the ambulance.
Tariq is currently in the process of fitting all the medical equipment and has collaborated with local doctors. “The idea is to provide immediate response when a call comes in. We will also have a doctor and a medical staff member with us, who will be able to give immediate medical aid, if the need arises,” he says. This service is not just for COVID-19 patients, but for anyone who has a medical emergency or is looking to get to the hospital.
“We want to be able to treat people at their own homes, especially for cases related to old age, falls and bruises, and even patients suffering from hypertension issues,” says Tariq. While everything has been set up to start operations, Srinagar has been receiving fresh snowfall almost everyday, making it impossible to get the shikara going.
“As soon as the weather is conducive, we will start operations,” he says.
“Dal dwellers need this shikara the most, who knows it better than me? I wish no one goes through what I did,” he tells The Better India.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)