Ostracised, Stigmatised During Covid-19 Infection, Dal Man Builds A Floating Ambulance For The Lake  

by Khalid Bashir Gura

SRINAGAR: On a cold winter morning, as the weak, wintry sun struggles to emerge, empty Shikaras bob in the greyish Dal Lake, at Ghat No 9. Quickly, the people get busy talking about the latest initiative of one of the inhabitant of Dal Lake, Tariq Ahmed Patloo, 50, a social worker.

Tariq Ahmad Patloo building floating ambulance. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Wiping away the wood dust, Patloo is busy making a ‘speed boat ambulance’ which he wants to upgrade to ‘floating dispensary’ exclusively for the Dal dwellers to provide the exigent medical aid that can sustain the patient until better care can be provided. The initiative might be the first in a long time as Christian missionaries had introduced boat-ambulances in Kashmir’s aquatic bodies earlier.

The silence around the houseboats and rowing Shikaras is shattered by the grate of the saw, the hammering of nails as the wood which is to be used for the ambulance is being shaped, measured and cut into designs. Patloo with salt and peppered beard explains the carpenter intricacies of how it ought to look on enclosed red and white coloured Shikara ambulance.

As people would lose a considerable amount of time rowing a Shikara, the ambulance will be mechanical, will function on the motor. It will also function as a mini dispensary to make travel quick in emergency cases and ferry patients to the nearest embankment.

As the inventions have been the outcome of the necessity, this particular infrastructure being built is the outcome of a crisis that Patloo personally was subjected by a situation post-Covid-19.

“I suffered myself a few months ago,” Patloo, overseeing the ambulance said.  “I was socially boycotted when I was detected Coronavirus positive in October. Everyone I had known for years turned away and no one was ready to ferry me across.”

Patloo said he had picked the infection from his aunt who died. However, he recuperated from the illness at home and decided to build an ambulance. Why Patloo wants an ambulance is that during the pandemic, as happened in his case, the individual Shikara owners boycotted a patient. If they did it once, they can do it always. “I did not want someone else to feel helpless as I did.”

Patloo vividly remembers the days when the Shikara owners would avoid even seeing towards him when he would require a crossing. As everyone was scared of possible contagion, only his friend offered him a ride. At the hospital, he was asked to home quarantine but travelling to and fro is not a cakewalk for Dal dwellers. “My friend, Riyaz Ahmed Kanna, would row me in his boat midnight and at the boulevard road my brother came all the way from Nishat to take me to hospital.”

Kashmir’s first ‘floating ambulance’ built by Tariq Ahmed Patloo at Dal Lake Srinagar. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

According to Patloo, at Ghat No 9, every Shikara refused to ferry him due to Covid-19 contagion fears.

Call it irony; the government has been missing from the scene when it comes to addressing basic necessities of the Dal dwellers especially providing health care. Patloo alleged that they have been left at the mercy of God. “There are only two facilities that we have; water and electricity and they are also rarely available.”

Patloo recovered despite being seriously hurt. One of the key factors was his resolve. Soon after he recovered, he shared the idea with a lady in New Delhi who is a part of the expert committees to protect Dal Lake and sought her advice. After a positive response, he started to work on his dream and his quest for funds started which will help him build Kashmir’s first boat ambulance for which he works day and night.

But as he struggles with finance to build a boat which may cost him more than a million rupees, he said an anonymous trust extended him support. “I used deodar wood, iron and aluminium in constructing it,” said Patloo, who is ensuring the safety of the boat by making its bottom waterproof. “It is just not a showpiece, it must survive and outlive us.”

Before making it fully functional the boat will be set on trial for a week and some mock drills.

Tariq said that the boat is not yet ready as the motor is yet to be installed and other medical equipment’s like blood pressure gauges to an ECG monitor to oxygen cylinders. But to make it functional and like a mini-hospital, he also wants a doctor on board, driver, and technician with a toll-free number 24/7.

“I cannot afford to bear the future expenses myself as I hope the government will get in and the stakeholders will sustain it for themselves,” Patloo asserted.

He does not want this to be a flash in the pan as the novelty dies away.

“The dockyard that was built in Dal cost crores of rupees but has benefited rarely anyone. It is useless and dysfunctional. It is an epitome of systematic failure,” said Patloo who says the ambulance services is for all Dal dwellers as well as tourists.

After having seen many people, tourists gasping for breath during emergencies, and when he himself suffered during the pandemic, Patloo’s resolved to redress the issue.

Patloo contracted the virus at the funeral of her maternal aunt. “I lost my maternal aunt a few months ago to a heart attack as she lost considerable time before reaching the hospital,” he said as he plans to inaugurate the ambulance by the coming week. He plans to formally apply to the Divisional Commissioner requesting for doctors to be on duty and for government support.

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