Ram Bahadur was referred to me with a large growth in his cheek. When I first saw him two months ago, he was in pain. This gentleman was obviously not from these parts. Ram Bahadur was a Nepali. His features confirmed that fact. The rest he told me in his clear unaccented colloquial Tamil. He came to Salem as a young man and became the security guard at Rajendra Mills, one of the leading cloth mills in Salem. Gurkhas were always in high demand in the security business. Some years later he got married to a local girl and settled down in a friendly locality, most of who worked in the same mill. Over the years he had completely integrated with the community. Although they had no children of their own, the Bahadurs adopted all the kids in the street as if they were their own. Ram Bahadur eventually retired. His wife died. The street adopted the old man. He was now 70 years old. Bahadur was the quintessential relic of urban goodness. The common grandfather. He played with the little ones, many of them the children of boys and girls whom he had cared for as a young man. He worshipped at the community temple and visited the Church of St Anthony every Tuesday. Bahadur’s life was certainly not lonely. At least not until he had this tumour bulging angrily out from his cheek. When I first saw him it was threatening to burrow out of the skin. It was not a pretty site. Ram Bahadur was concerned and it showed in his feigned nonchalance. He was brought to my clinic by two young men whom he had carried on his shoulders when they were little boys. They were barely employed young men struggling to make a living. One of them, Veerapan, worked as an unskilled office boy in an office which belonged to a good friend of mine. Unlike his infamous namesake, Veerapan was a docile self effacing young man who was genuinely concerned for the Nepali Thatha of his street. He asked to speak to me privately and went on to tell me that he and his friends had decided to take care of all the expenses that they could afford. I explained that Ram Bahadur had a tumour that was too far gone. He had nodes in his neck. He was unlikely to survive long even with surgery and radiotherapy. My silent concern however was whether these young people would indeed look after him if he needed prolonged convalescence. Even close family sometimes experienced fatigue and disgust in these situations. After getting a positive biopsy I anguished over the decision to operate. On the one hand there was the futility of a long operation and a very long and turbulent period of healing. There would be significant impact on his quality of life. On the other hand who was I to make a decision for treatment based on his social situation. I admitted him in the charity hospital of which I am the medical director. That night Ram Bahadur rebelled. He hallucinated and the devil of loneliness got to him. He lashed out against the nurses and showed significant signs of psychological instability. We calmed him down with anti-depressants and two days later I made my decision. In consultation with a psychiatrist and considering his advanced disease we decided that surgery would be inappropriate. He was discharged. Ram Bahadur was given pain and anti-anxiety medication. Veerapan and his friends were assured that it was a non communicable disease. Indeed, the whole street was apprehensive. They however stood by him. They bore the stench and fed him for two months. When it got too much they brought him back to the hospital. He was given three days of palliative care at Sharon. He died one morning in absolute peace. Veerapan and his friends took him home and gave him a grand farewell.
A week after the funeral the young men of the street found that Ram Bahadur had Rs3 lakhs in bank deposits. There was another Rs13,000 in cash. There were no relatives. There was no nomination. The young men refused to take a single paisa as compensation for the money they spent for their Nepali Thatha. They finally came to me and asked if I would accept the money to help other poor people at Sharon. Goodness dwells in the heart of the poor!