As He Lay Dying

Outlook|June 08, 2020

As He Lay Dying
Amrit and Saiyub’s bond of friendship, forged in childhood, would break cruelly on a hot, dusty highway. This is their story.
Salik Ahmad

IT was the morning of May 15. Mohammad Saiyub (22) and Amrit Kumar (25) had been travelling atop the roof of a truck for over a day. They were returning from Surat in Gujarat, where they worked in a textile unit, to their village Devari, 1,500 km away in Uttar Pradesh’s Basti. Amrit had developed a raging fever; his condition deteriorated as the blazing day wore on. The prolonged exposure to the sun had caused a heat stroke.

“He lay with his head in my lap. His body was burning, I could feel the heat,” says Saiyub. He told his friend to hang in there and that they’d find a doctor somewhere on the route. But, seeing Amrit’s condition, other passengers in the truck started growing uneasy. Suspecting that Kumar was a COVID-19 patient, they told the driver to get rid of him. Saiyub insisted that they be dropped near a hospital at least. But the frayed nerves ranged against him were overpowering, their demand heartless. The two were dropped about 50-60 km from the district hospital in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh.

As they got down, the driver told Saiyub, “Leave him. Why are you getting down with him?” It was a thought Saiyub couldn’t countenance even for a moment. All he wanted was his childhood friend to get well and their safe return to Devari—they mostly travelled together. Fortunately, they were dropped where a few good samaritans were serving food and water to migrant labourers in transit; they called an ambulance for the duo.

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June 08, 2020