Reaching home a couple of days late was all right for Yaqoob Mohammad but not returning to his village alone, without his friend Amrit Ramcharan. “Both our parents are waiting. We had left home together to work in Surat and decided to return together,” said Mr. Mohammed.
When his febrile friend was dumped along the highway in Kolaras of Shivpuri district in Madhya Pradesh on Friday by a truck headed for Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Mohammed disembarked, too. “I couldn’t leave him alone in that condition. Other workers in the truck felt he carried the coronavirus, but he was my friend. They refused to call for medical help,” he recalled.
Alongside the Mumbai-Agra highway, before the ambulance arrived, Mr. Mohammad cushioned his friend’s head on his lap and sprinkled water to keep him from sinking.
The same night, Ramcharan’s temperature shot up to 105 degrees and he was put on a ventilator, but could not survive. Travelling some 850 km, huddled up in an open truck in searing heat, he had suffered a heat stroke and dehydration.
“Their repeated appeals to stop the truck at a water point went in vain,” said A. L. Sharma, Shivpuri Chief Medical and Health Officer.
Mr. Mohammed was Ramcharan’s roommate for three years.
While Mr. Mohammed worked at a thread factory, his friend worked at a powerloom. Both residents of Basti district made ₹300-400 a day. “We were done with our work and had booked tickets for home for March 22. But the lockdown kicked in,” said Mr. Mohammed, who had to shell out all his earnings on food in the weeks that followed, and ask for another ₹4,000 to be sent from home. Losing faith that the lockdown would ever be lifted, they had booked two spots — and stood most of the journey — in the truck. “We had decided to go back home and work in agricultural fields as labourers,” said Mr. Mohammed is now at an isolation facility at the district hospital. Their samples have been collected for COVID-19 test.