It rained last night. Not a hard, driving rain but a steady, cool drizzle. When I woke up to run, the chill in the air and the wet conditions deterred me; I changed out of my running clothes and went back to sleep. It was my first time ever being cold in Hyderabad; to me, it was a welcome shift from normal (where normal is hot and humid and dusty).
But cold and rain are not good if you live on the margins of society. If you live in a slum area, your floors may get washed away. Sewage and garbage floats down into the slums from the hills. (Invariably, the low income areas in Banjara Hills – where I stay – are located in the valleys nestled between the namesake hills.) The morning cooking fire is more difficult to start; your belongings are wet. It’s unpleasant.
And what if you don’t expect it to be cold? Or if you’re living on the streets – and in Hyderabad, that’s a fair number of people – and have no protection from sudden shifts in weather?
Maybe you end up cold and shivering, huddled under the awning of a vacant storefront…in the building next to my office.
And this is where the hypothetical slides into and mixes with reality. Reality: at 10:30 AM today, Tahira, the wonderful woman who cleans our office and takes care of us, came inside and said, “I think there’s a dead body outside – what should we do?” I don’t know if that’s an exact translation of what she said, but you get the idea.
What do you do when you see a body? Call an ambulance, right? So we did…dialing 108 for the local EMRI service to come, quickly, and help the man who was huddled under the awning in the building next to my office. Next to a Citibank ATM, mind you, which is quite popular. How is it that Tahira was the first person to notice, to do something? How long had he been there?
The ambulance didn’t come. Period. The police came, checked it out – yep, he’s not only merely dead, he’s really most sincerely dead – and left again. At 2:30, Molly and I went back to check, partially out of (morbid) curiosity and partially because we wanted to make sure someone – anyone – cared.
He was still there. Still dead.
We asked some questions. The security guard at the Citibank ATM told us that he was there, at 9:00 AM, alive but cold, shivering. I know I did not see him on my way into the office, because I came from the opposite direction. But there’s traffic going both ways. How is it possible that no one saw him, and thought to help? Sure, he may have had TB, or suffered from exposure, or any number of other maladies. I’m not the ME, and I don’t pretend to be.
But how can we as a society just ignore a man, dying, at our doorstep? Does he have a family? Who will be missing him tonight, now, as I write this?
Only marginally better is the fact that we have to pause to ask permission – “there’s a body outside – what should we do?” – instead of taking immediate action. Or in abdicating responsibility to the policy and EMS – and yes, I’m guilty of that – neither of whom are up to the task.
I don’t have the answers. But tonight, I’m more grateful than ever for the roof over my head, the blanket on my bed and the friends who would never let me, under any circumstances, spend my final hours on the cold, hard concrete under the awning of a vacant storefront.