The clamour outside the King George’s Medical University (KGMU) critical care unit stops when a teenager carrying an urn covered with red cloth arrives. His face streaked with tears, the boy has just returned with the ashes of his aunt, who was cremated Wednesday in an Unnao village.
On Thursday in Barabanki, there’s another funeral. His mother’s. The two women died in the car accident Sunday in Rae Bareli which left the Unnao rape victim and her lawyer in critical condition.
As the Unnao woman fights for life on ventilator support, with doctors saying she is still critical with “vitals showing some improvement, which is hard to define”, her family is caught between two cremations, her recovery and a police case.
The young boy, who is the woman’s cousin walked out later with luggage in one hand and the urn in the other as the woman’s mother, who has been wearing the same saree for the past three days, entered the CCU. With nowhere else to go, her mother carried some belongings in a cloth bag, which she holds tight to her chest at all times, trailed by her three other daughters and son.
“We have cremated my aunt today as my uncle had to go back to jail. I was the only male member left after him, so we have brought the ashes with us. I will now cremate my mother tomorrow morning in our home town of Barabanki,” he told The Indian Express.
The woman’s mother and her children walk close to each other, always looking around to make sure every family member is accounted for. Before they reach the doors of the CCU, they are stopped by their police escort.
A policeman says an inspector needs to meet them on the second floor where a room has been arranged for them. Her mother looks at the doors of the CCU once before they are whisked away to the elevators.
At the CCU, as attendants of patients from across the state sit on the hospital floor on plastic bags or old bedsheets, four women constables wearing surgical masks occupy the chairs on either side of the doors outside the KGMU critical care unit.
Two more women constables sit between them and the inner doors of the CCU and another four constables occupy the chairs next to the elevators on the floor. Policemen hustle across the corridors every few minutes. It could not be more conspicuous inside the Lucknow hospital, but most people now know it is no ordinary patient in critical condition at the CCU.
Farhat Hussain, in his early 70’s, holds on to one empty chair next to the CCU, hoping to stay on it after his sister is admitted inside. “I have come from Sandila in Hardoi district. My 65-year-old sister fell and suffered a head injury. She was initially kept on a stretcher for about an hour and has been taken for a CT scan, I am waiting for her to come back,” he says.
“Doctors awaj dete hain (doctors will call us),” he says on why he wants the chair closest to the CCU doors. Other family members of those admitted to the CCU are not as lucky as Hussain.
One woman from Bahraich says, “What can we do, we have to be here if doctors ask for anything. If we leave this place, others will take it. My granddaughter is admitted here as she developed complications while delivering her first baby,” says Kesari Devi.
Noticing the din of policemen, a woman sitting next to Devi asks, “Kiske liye aye hain yeh sab, kya ho raha hai? (For whom have all these people come? What is happening?)” Her relative tells her, “The woman from Unnao who was in news is admitted here. They are here to protect her.”
The first woman replies, “ Ab ka bachaibe? (What will they protect now?)”
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