India Insights: There’s a body outside – what should we do?

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.


About Rob

Twitter @robertkatz
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6 Responses to India Insights: There’s a body outside – what should we do?

  1. Rishabh says:

    That was really tragic.

    It’s instances like these make you take more notice when you hear of people dying in natural disasters or wars. In most cases, we tend to dismiss them as mere statistics.

  2. Minna Katz says:

    OH DEAR!!
    I think the reality that is India just rose up and smacked you in the face!!.
    We take so much for granted here-we call 911,and the wheels turn,and things get taken care of,and we move on,in our own lives.
    How long did it take for this man’s body to be removed?
    I hope that today is better.
    Love, Grandma

  3. mollina says:

    Rob – you captured the tragic events of yesterday perfectly. Unfortunately, when I shared it with friends in NY I was sent this too, too similar incident:

    Religious or not, the golden rule that keeps us human must be do unto others as thou would unto you.

  4. Rob says:

    Thanks, everyone. Especially you, Molly. The link you provided brought home to me that this isn’t about India versus the US, or the developing world versus the developed. It’s about humanity and dignity and rising above the normal to do what’s right. That a similar scenario can play out on the streets of New York City makes this all even more unsettling.

  5. Jake says:

    I can’t find a link for it, but the same thing happened outside a Safeway in Adams Morgan in DC a year or two ago…homeless guy, looked to be asleep, was actually dead. There was video of people walking by him for a long, long time before someone figured out that something was up. Less than two miles from the White House, as the news would be sure to say…

    • Rob says:

      Jake, thanks for reminding me about this. I had forgotten, but had read about it (I think you may have even sent around the link at the time). Molly’s comment – above – includes a link to the same type of story in NYC. I guess it comes down to our common (in)humanity and perhaps something of a warning about city life – we’re in such big places, with so many people, that the sense of community is harder to sustain. Anyway, just my morning musings…talk to you soon.

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