Earlier this month when Laxman Chandra Rout telephoned his physically challenged sister Rangalata in Gopinathpur village in Odisha’s Kendrapara district to enquire whether she was taking her medicines on time, his son Avinash snatched the phone to speak to her.
Just two months ago, Avinash had visited his father’s village, spending a few days with his uncles and aunts, who were amazed by his “smartness”. Though he did not like the muddy tracks and the lack of a proper toilet at home, he promised to come back in January. “What should I get for you next time,” Avinash asked in Hindi. “I told him, ‘I don’t want anything from you. I will just be happy to see you,’” said Rangalata, flipping through photographs of her brother, nephew and sister-in-law. “He could not speak Odia. But every time his father would call up, he would seek me out.”
Avinash died of dengue on September 8 at a Delhi hospital. The end came after a traumatic 24 hours when his parents failed to get a bed for him in two of Delhi’s top hospitals before rushing him to Batra hospital. It was too late. Doctors declared Avinash dead around 1 pm. Hours later, unable to bear the shock, his parents, Laxman and Babita, jumped to death from their house in South Delhi.
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Laxman used to send money for his bed-ridden parents and sister in Kendrapara. “Since the day he started working in Delhi in early 2000, he would send whatever amount he could to my father. Initially, it was Rs 500 but, in the last few months, he used to send Rs 2,000 for my father, paralytic mother and sister. He was our best and last hope,” said Laxman’s elder brother Rama Chandra Rout. He runs a tea shop.
In fact, the last money order of Rs 2,000 that Laxman sent to his father reached the day he was being cremated. Laxman’s father Kartik, 85, doesn’t know his son is no more. “He is already shocked after being told about the death of Avinash and my sister-in-law. If he is told about Bulu (Laxman’s nickname), he will not survive,” said Rama Chandra.
The Routs have just about one acre of agrcultural land, which remains waterlogged during the monsoon. Just one room of the house is pucca, while other parts have thatched roofs.
Laxman did his BSc from nearby Derabish College and then moved to Agra, from where he did his MA in statistics. After that, he reportedly did his MBA and started working in small firms in Delhi. “Unlike other boys in our village, he was studious. He used to tell us that education can make a big difference in life,” said neighbour Kashinath Rout.
His wife Babita reportedly mortgaged her jewellery to send Avinash to Sarvodaya School in Delhi. But as he struggled for a better life in Delhi, Laxman did not forget his ailing parents and sister. “Every Sunday morning, between 7 am and 7.30 am, he would call me. He would be particular about my blood pressure medicine. When I would ask him why he was spending so much on me, he would tell me not to worry,” said Rangalata.
On September 7 morning when he called up to say Avinash was struck with dengue, Rangalata started crying. “But he did not tell us clearly how critical he was. Laxman seemed to be hiding something. When I came to know doctors had given up hope on Avinash, my heart sank,” she said. Rangalata almost passed out when she learnt next day that her brother and sister-in-law were no more.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 3 lakh for the family.