Updated: October 14, 2020 10:34:11 am
For over six months, Aarif Khan slept in an ambulance parking lot 28 km from his home in northeast Delhi’s Seelampur, staying in touch with his wife and four children on the phone. Khan was on call 24X7, ferrying patients of Covid-19 as well as carrying its victims to their last rites. On Saturday morning, the 48-year-old ambulance driver succumbed to the disease at Hindu Rao Hospital.
Employed with the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, that provides free emergency services in NCR, Khan would often pitch in with money for the last rites if a family was in need, or help with the rituals if a deceased’s near ones were not around, his colleagues say.
“He ensured everyone got a farewell but his own family couldn’t give him that. They saw his body from afar for a few minutes,” said Jitender Kumar, adding that Khan would have ferried close to 200 bodies since March.
On October 3, Khan fell sick and got a Covid-19 test done, which came positive. He died within a day of getting admitted to hospital.
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Khan’s son Aadil, 22, said they had seen him only during his brief visits home since March 21. “We met when he came over to pick up something, like clothes… I used to go to check on him sometimes. We were always worried about him. But he never bothered about Covid, he just wanted to do his job well,” said Aadil, the younger of Khan’s sons, adding that the last time Khan came home, he was already sick.
Khan’s other son, Asif, said, “I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him… How will we survive without him?”
Khan, who earned Rs 16,000 a month, was the sole earning member of the family. Their monthly house rent is Rs 9,000. Aadil said his brother and he did odd jobs once in a while, but work had petered out lately.
“Pariwaar ke liye dukh ka pahaad toot gaya hai (It is a huge blow for the family),” said Kumar, who was present at Khan’s funeral.
“These have been extraordinary times, and even though he was a driver, Khan often helped with the last rites too. Woh Muslim tha par Hinduon ke bhi daah-sanskaar karaata tha (He was a Muslim but he helped out even with cremations of Hindus)… He was very dedicated to his work,” said Jitender Singh Shunty, the founder of the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, adding that Khan worked 12-14 hours a day, responding to calls even as late as 3 am.
Khan was also around when Shunty and his family tested positive for the virus. So, when Khan got infected and took a turn for the worse, he tried to return the kindness. However, the deterioration was sudden. “Aarif did not have any other health conditions but he was having trouble breathing for the last few days,” he said.
Anand Kumar, 32, a fellow driver with the Sewa Dal who also stays in the parking lot for fear of carrying the virus home, said when he joined a year ago, “Aarif was very helpful. He treated me like a brother and guided me.” Conversations between them often revolved around how much they missed their families, Kumar said.
Founded in 1995, the Sewa Dal provides free and accessible emergency services to the needy in the Capital and around, including ambulances and blood donation, and Khan had been working with them from almost the start.
Shunty said not just hospitals but also RWAs and police stations turn to them. Khan was one of their 12 employees. Last month, Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital had written an appreciation letter thanking the organisation for transporting over 300 bodies from the hospital of Covid patients, and helping in their last rites, including in cases where family members had not turned up. East Delhi District Magistrate Arun Kumar Mishra had also written a letter noting their contribution during the pandemic.
Giving an example of Khan’s dedication, Shunty said, “On September 30, a hospital refused to release a person’s body because his family couldn’t foot the bill… Khan chipped in. He was a man who genuinely cared for others.”
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