ONE of Shimla’s coldest winters now has a heartwarming story: of six hardened men, a 2.4-kg baby called Shivangi, and a three-and-a-half-hour trek through deep snow. January 8 was the first heavy day of snowfall this year in the Himachal capital. By 5.30 pm, 36 hours of snow had broken a 25-year record, and thrown normal life out of gear. At the Thakur home in Prangyan, a village located in a valley on the edges of Shimla town, there had been no power for 48 hours.
Kamini, 24, was in the last stages of pregnancy, expecting her first child, and had called her mother Sarla Devi to keep her company. Her husband Swaroop Thakur, a medical representative, had gone to Chandigarh for work and had not been able to make his way back as the roads were blocked.
Kamini, however, wasn’t worried. She had last visited her doctor on January 1 at Kamla Nehru Hospital in Shimla, 10 km away, and was given the tentative date of January 14 for delivery. She had had no complications so far and was in perfect health. Around 5.30 pm, the labour pains started. Sarla called up 102, a free ambulance service provided under the National Rural Health Mission to take pregnant mothers to hospitals. But they said it was impossible to reach them given the conditions.
For the first time, Kamini says, she had a sinking feeling. She called up her husband in tears. He told them to to get in touch with Mukund Lal, the former vice-pradhan of the village who lived next door. Before he left, Swaroop had told Lal to watch over Kamini.
Lal was at their home — a rented two-room accommodation in a two-storey building, within minutes. As they debated how to take Kamini to hospital, other neighbours gathered. Some suggested she summon the local midwife and deliver at home. Lal says Kamini and Sarla rejected this outright. “They said they were here in Shimla, and not back in Kamini’s paternal village in Mandi, only to ensure a safe delivery.”
Kamini pleaded with Sarla to let her walk to the hospital. “Time was running out. I knew staying back home that night would endanger my life as well as that of the child. I refused to give up hope,” she says.
Lal called up Head Constable Ravi Barari of Bharari police lines, 3 km from the village. He knew Barari’s number, and that he was a trained commando with the state’s CID unit. He explained the situation, and urged Barari, who once did a first-aid course, to come soon with the others.
Barari was at the time buying groceries and candles at Bharari Bazar, along with Head Constable Puneet Sharma. Fearing they could run out of supplies, the two had stepped out despite the bad weather. They decided to call four more trained commandos.
“When I told them why they were needed, the others immediately volunteered. We had never handled such a thing before,” recalls Sharma, the only one among the six to not be a trained commando.
By 6 pm, the six — Devinder Mehta, Shiv Kant, Piare Lal and Sunil Singh, all constables, apart from Sharma and Barari — were at Kamini’s home, carrying torches.
Looking at Kamini’s condition, the men debated whether to carry her on a cot or a stretcher. Apart from the fact that a suitable cot or a stretcher wasn’t available, the options were also ruled out as there was the danger of Kamini rolling off them.
Lal says that he proposed that they use a chair, and carry Kamini like patients were transported earlier in remote villages. After the men selected a chair, he adds, “I organised two round logs from my store, which were tied to the chair arms, so that the men could carry it like a palki (palanquin).”
A thick blanket was wrapped around Kamini, who also wore stockings, gloves and extra layers of clothes to keep warm.
Around 6.30 pm, the group of nine, including the six men, Kamini, Sarla and Lal, set off. Sarla carried a bag of clothes for the baby that they had kept ready, apart from Kamini’s medical papers.
“There was hardly any trace of the road under the snow. There were also fallen trees and branches all over, as well as electricity poles and power lines,” says Lal.
Asked about it, Sharma smiles, “We had no special safety equipment, jackets or snow shoes. In fact, even if we had, there was no time to consider all that.”
Sharma adds that they knew they couldn’t rest for long anywhere along the route. “We took just one break near Hotel Radisson around 8 pm. All six of us took turns carrying her. The road was deserted and slippery. We were also afraid of tumbling over something.”
Says Barari, “As we entered Shimla around 8.30 pm, there were slippery patches near Lakkar Bazaar, Ridge, Marina Hotel as well as Kamla Nehru Hospital. There were moments when our hearts jumped into our mouth as we felt we were slipping. But Kamini remained composed.”
To distract her, the men kept talking to her. They asked her what she would name the baby. “The child will definitely grow up to be a minister or VVIP considering she is being carried in a palki even before birth,” Sharma remembers joking.
Barari says they were conscious her blood pressure could shoot up given the stress. But Kamini kept reassuring them she was fine. “We took it one step at a time, not sure what we were treading on,” he adds.
When they were at Radisson Hotel and at the Ridge, they again called for an ambulance. A local media professional who crossed them at Lakkar Bazar also called up on their behalf. But the operators again expressed helplessness due to the weather.
The men were not just brave but extremely affectionate, which encouraged her to be brave too, says Kamini. “I kept praying to god for their safety too, as they had taken such a risk for me.”
Around 9.15 pm, almost three and a half hours after they had set off, they reached Kamla Nehru Hospital. Stunned at the team walking in from the snow, the doctors at the hospital rushed through the formalities and took Kamini to the ward.
“She was brought just in time. Her health parameters were okay. There could have been a risk if she had come in an hour or so later,” says Dr Bishan Dhiman, who was at hospital at the time.
Dr Dhiman was among those who stepped out to meet the policemen and congratulate them.
When Kamini was wheeled into the delivery room, the six waited outside. Later, they headed to the hospital canteen for dinner. They gulped down all that was put before them, they smile.
Kamini spent a restless night. Around 9 am the next day, her labour pains got worse and she was taken to the operation theatre. Few minutes later, a healthy girl was born. The policemen only left after meeting her baby. By the evening, Swaroop had reached.
The story of that night is being celebrated across Shimla since, on social media, newspapers and radio, and by the authorities, including Shimla Superintendent of Police D W Negi and Inspector General of Police (South) Zahoor Zaidi. Dr Dhiman has issued the policemen a certificate of commendation.
Kamini says she can’t stop wondering at the miracle. “There must have been some divine power looking out for Shivangi. She had to come to this world to bring happiness, pride and fame to six police jawans.”
Holding Shivangi close to her, at her maternal home, she adds, “When my daughter grows up, I am going to tell her the story of her birth and my journey to the hospital. I am preserving all the newspaper clippings, videos and audio-clips.”
She will also tell Shivangi about the six “sent by God” that evening to light her way, Kamini adds. “My farishtey (angels).”