In a photo that went viral on Saturday, Saiyub, 23, can be seen cradling his friend’s head in his lap, as Amrit struggles for life. He fell ill and died as the two of them made their way home to their village Banpati Bihar in Basti in Uttar Pradesh from Surat, a distance of more than 1,400 km.
Saiyub, now at an isolation facility in Shivpuri District Hospital, said there could have been no other way. “My parents were waiting for me. Uske mummy papa bhi (Amrit’s parents too).”
Amrit’s samples as well as his were taken for coronavirus testing. Both tested negative.
Friends since childhood, the two had left the village hoping to earn a better living in the city — Saiyub was the first to leave, for Mumbai, while Amrit went to Surat. Around three years ago, Amrit convinced Saiyub to shift to Surat too. They worked in different textile units but shared a room.
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The units shut on March 25. Having waited about 48 days, they decided to leave on Thursday, with Amrit striking a deal with the driver of a truck carrying migrant workers and paying Rs 4,000 each for seats for them.
Saiyub said Amrit was tense about going back as he was the sole breadwinner of his family, supporting his two siblings and parents from the Rs 10,000-odd he earned. But they hoped their employer would call them back once the lockdown lifted, and Saiyub recalled Amrit was happy as they left, teasing a group of workers from Bihar who had decided to stay back.
They had been travelling about a day-and-a-half atop the truck, with little protection from the sun, when Amrit started feeling ill. He took some paracetamol tablets but his condition did not improve. As they were passing Kolaras in Madhya Pradesh on Friday, Saiyub asked the driver if they could make a halt to show Amrit to a doctor. Desperate to get home, unsure of what the new set of lockdown rules might be, neither their fellow travellers nor the driver wanted to break journey, Saiyub said.
The driver urged him too to continue on as Amrit got off. But, he couldn’t have left his friend alone, Saiyub said. “No, I did not feel scared. Yahi lag raha tha ki yeh jaldi theek ho jaye aur ghar pahunch jaaye, sahi salamat (I only thought Amrit should get better soon and reach home safe). I thought I would stay with him till he got better.”
But, Amrit continued to sink, and in the photo that went viral, Saiyub put his head in his lap, a half-empty water bottle and a red backpack by their side. Before an ambulance arrived, he kept wetting a handkerchief and wiping Amrit’s forehead to lower his temperature.
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Said Saiyub: “I realised Amrit may not survive. He was trying to speak but could only make some sounds.”
Dr Vivek Sharma, posted at the Community Health Centre in Kolaras where Amrit was taken, said: “Amrit’s sugar was low and temperature high. I gave him ORS. I thought it was a case of heat stroke. He had febrile convulsions.” The doctor also recalls how Saiyub would not leave Amrit’s side, making him assume they were brothers. “Even ward boys are scared to touch patients these days,’’ he adds.
When there was no improvement, Amrit was referred to Shivpuri, the district headquarters, about 25 km away.
Shivpuri Chief Medical and Health Officer Dr A L Sharma said Amrit’s lungs were clear but he had severe dehydration. He was shifted to ICU and kept on a ventilator, but passed away around Friday midnight.
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Since Saiyub and Amrit were coming from the red zone area of Surat, their samples were taken for Covid-19 testing. The doctors and staff who treated them have gone into quarantine.
The Shivpuri administration has spoken to Amrit’s family, and Dr Sharma said his body would be sent home Monday. Saiyub will accompany.
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