Citizens' Issues
“The ambulance would be coming anytime now”

When you breathe your last in an unknown city, strangers become friends. Would it have made a difference if the ambulance had come 10 minutes earlier?

R Vijayaraghavan (Viji as he was fondly called) was one of the many guests, who checked in the afternoon of 30th July, at the well-reputed YMCA Club in the heart of Pune. It should otherwise have been just another name recorded in the register and forgotten after checkout a couple of days later. However, it was to leave a deep mark of sadness in the minds of the YMCA management members who stood around one of the stalwart business journalists of India, in his dying moments, as if he were their family member.


“Wake me up at 7.15am tomorrow and also send me a cup of sugar-less tea,” said Viji to Mark Yardi, receptionist, at around 8.30pm on 30th July, when he had come down to the lobby. Once again he came down from his room and reminded Mark about the wake-up call, told him that the taxi would be coming to pick him up. He also asked for sugar-less tea to be sent to his room, at that time, which was around 10pm. It was only after the taxi driver called up next morning, that Mark knew that Viji was to go to Lavasa (to participate in a bridge tournament).


Mark says he received a call from Viji’s room precisely at 12.07am, which he picked up immediately. “I found he was breathing heavily, as if he was panting. His voice had drastically changed. He only mentioned two words ‘ambulance’ ‘oxygen’. I promptly dialled the Jehangir Nursing Home for an ambulance (the hospital is about 2.5km away), called the security guy and rushed up to his room.”


Mark was relieved to find the door of his room ajar and not locked from inside. Viji was sitting on the bed, with a t-shirt on and his lungi, half-clad over him. He was breathing heavily. When Mark put his hand around his shoulder and said, “Uncle, the ambulance would be coming anytime now”, Viji said to him, “Son, I’m not going to make it, I’m going to die.” He reiterated that he needed oxygen.


Mark began dialling the numbers of the board members of YMCA, informing them about the emergency. He then got a call from the ambulance driver saying he was unable to locate YMCA (I thought that’s shocking, since YMCA is such a vital landmark of Pune). Mark asked the security guy to be with ‘Uncle’ and he rushed downstairs and on to the square of the main road so that he could spot the ambulance and guide him to YMCA. It took 15 minutes for the ambulance to reach YMCA (at that night of the hour it could have made it in five minutes. What’s the use of emergency ambulance services if the drivers are not familiar with important locations of the city?)


When Mark and the para-medical staff rushed into the lift with the life-saving equipments, the security guy called up Mark to say that “Uncle has fallen down from the bed.”  He was on the floor. The doctor and his team began to work on him instantly and tried hard to resuscitate him for about 25 minutes, but he did not respond. The doctor said to Mark that he was no more. Says Mark, “I requested the doctor to keep trying or rush him to the hospital.” The doctor tried again for another 10 minutes but Uncle had already passed away, he said. The doctor gave him the copy of the ‘pulse’ sheet and said that now it is the responsibility of YMCA to call the cops and shift the body to Sassoon General Hospital.


By then several members of the YMCA management had arrived and by the time the cops came it was 2am. Deepak Londhe, secretary, YMCA interacted with the cops who did a panchnama. Viji’s wallet had Rs2,800 as counted by Mr Londhe, who was collecting all his personal items to keep it in safe custody. The cop mentioned he would require that money as he would be taking him in an ambulance. Mr Londhe said YMCA would be calling for an ambulance and sending two staff members too, so money would not be required. The cop had no choice but to nod. The body was taken to the Sassoon morgue at around 4am.


At around 9am the next day (31st July), two YMCA staffers again reached Sassoon to finish some formalities for the post-mortem. States Mr Londhe, “the panchnama had to be changed thrice as the doctor-in-charge said that the cops had not written it correctly.” (This is surprising as cops posted here would be routinely doing it. Is this a way to pressurize the bereaved family members into doling out money? My allegation.)


Sucheta Dalal, managing editor of Moneylife, called me up at 8am on 31st July to inform me about this tragedy, on the basis of a Facebook message that Viji’s daughter Lavanya had posted on her wall. Ms Dalal requested me to help out, especially regarding the post-mortem and the death certificate. I instantly understood the importance as I had gone through a gruelling time when my younger sister’s husband had passed away in an accident, several years back, 75km from Pune.


I promptly called up Additional Commissioner Anant Shinde, unaware that he had been posted to Nagpur. Being a very sensitive police officer and a good human being, he said, nevertheless he would put an inspector on the job and have him contact me. Inspector Govekar called me up and I requested him to ensure that the post-mortem is done on priority and the provisional death certificate required for the cremation is kept ready latest by 2pm, so that the family won’t have to wait endlessly when they reach Pune around 5pm. In order to be doubly sure, I requested him to send a Photostat copy of the death certificate to the YMCA reception counter, which he promptly did. Many thanks to Mr Shinde and Mr Govekar.


I also did not want the family members to face any difficulty at the cremation ground. I called up Sandeep Khardekar, a senior local politician and social activist to request him to talk to the in-charge of the Vaikunth Crematorium. I too called him. They took down Viji’s name.


When we, along with Lavanya, other family members and friends of Viji’s, reached the Sassoon morgue, the stink of human flesh churned my insides. As I stood along with Sudha Menon, my friend and a business journalist who has high regards for Viji, under the umbrella (Pune had the heaviest rains that day), I was once again reminded of humiliation and indignity to the dead here. There have been so many news reports over the years, of the Sassoon morgue which lacks proper facilities like even the basic temperature control required to store a dead body without letting it decompose, but nothing seems to have changed. It’s pathetic and agonizing.


Nevertheless, I was glad that Viji was cremated in one of the best crematoriums in Pune, embedded with greenery, stalwart trees, chirping of the birds and manicured lawns.


Pune has become Viji’s last home, which he must have least expected. Mark’s words though still ring in my ears: “I could not sleep the whole night. I kept thinking, would it have made a difference if the ambulance had come 10 minutes earlier?”


(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])



nagesh kini

5 years ago

Thanks Vinita for a factual report on Viji.
It is in deed sad - Possibly had the ambulance been there on time Viji would have survived.
My experience of the ambulances is - like vultures they are found parked all round the big hospitals on the wrong sides of the road, on pavements, in one way streets, no parking zones, on road corners making exits of fire brigades extremely difficult. No drivers. If there are any, like the one in Pune, don't know the location.
When I recently called 100 in the morning to complain giving the landmark as Hinduja Hospital the girl at the other end asks me where on earth is Hinduja Hospital and ends up by telling me to go to the nearest police station!
If Medical Colleges are owned by big time politicos, the local ex-corporators and legislators and goons own the ambulances that were found carrying arms during the Mumbai riots.
I can certainly vouch for the friendly cop DCP Anant Shinde's advice. Some time back the RBI had assigned me to conduct an investigation for a PIL on plantation companies to assist the EOW of Mumbai Police of which Mr. Shinde was a then DCP. On the very first meeting it turned out he and I studied in the same school at Kolhapur, he was my junior. He later told me that I was the only CA out of the four assigned, to submit a positive report.
Along with total Health Care reforms the Ambulance system needs an urgent revamp as it is a vital cog in the Golden Hour - the critical first hour that make for a difference between life and death in accidents or cardiac attacks.


5 years ago

In our country, one has to have contacts in high places in order to get a dead body released from morgues . What a tragedy ! Spare a drop of tear for the common man.


nagesh kini

In Reply to NKPadhi 5 years ago

Don't spare any tears.
Why not, you, yourself do something for the common man?
If a single Vinita can do it, so can you, if you have the will and determination please gather a few dedicated like-minded men and women and do something small you too will surely succeed.I speak from experience! All the best.

anantha ramdas

5 years ago

Vinita Deshmukh's report on the
passing away of Viji made feel very sad. It is truly tragic that the hospital had a driver who did not even know the shortest arrival route to the YMCA. If someone investigates this further, the driver would probably confess that he was never asked this question, if he knew the city well, or such important land marks as the police station and other similar places.

Yes, there is a heavenly chance
that Viji may have been saved as
he had a fighting chance to survive.

One thing that drew my attention is the heaviest rain that Pune had that day. It looks like the Heavens shed tears for a good soul like viji.

May he rest in peace.


Sucheta Dalal

In Reply to anantha ramdas 5 years ago

Indeed... it rained heavily and that is why we were so grateful for Vinita's fantastic connectivity in Pune and her willingness to help.
Strangely, Viji, who was all admiration for the work she did on President Pratibha Patil's bungalow, never did finally meet Vinita, even though he ended his days in Pune!
Life is strange indeed... and so many things about Viji's life in the past year have been stranger than fiction!

Vinita Deshmukh

In Reply to Sucheta Dalal 5 years ago

Yes Sucheta, even I am in deep thought as to how is it that I got connected with Viji in his death? Why is it that I had the honour of doing my bit for him in his last journey? I am so happy that I could do a little seva for a person who was a stalwart journalist and a good human being. His sudden death reminded me of Prakash Kardaley who too suddenly died of a heart attack and was also in his 60s. Yes, life is sometimes strange

Rajkumar Singh

In Reply to Vinita Deshmukh 5 years ago

I too admire many people without having met them. Now after reading this tragic incident, I am hopeful of getting connected with them like Viji- may his soul rest in peace.

Many thanks to Moneylife Team.

Shoppers Stop Q1 net profit plunges 96% on steep cost escalation

Shoppers Stop said it is right sizing the number of stores. During the June quarter it opened four stores while closing seven, including few at airports

Mumbai: Despite a 15% increase in sales, city-based premium retail chain Shoppers Stop today reported a 95.7% decline in net profit at Rs50.36 lakh for June quarter amid spike in expenses, mostly debt servicing and service tax outgo, reports PTI.
Its standalone sales for the quarter rose 14.9% to Rs449.98 crore from Rs391.56 crore in the year-ago period.
"There is definitely some amount of slowdown and the costs have gone up, taking overall cost during the quarter by a hefty 27%. Service tax impacted us by 70 bps at Rs3.2 crore while rents have gone up by 50 bps to Rs9 crore and interest rates capped it all which went up by 500 bps to Rs4 crore," Govind Shrikhande, managing director of Shoppers Stop told PTI.
He also said the cost of power rose by 60 bps to Rs18.4 crore, while depreciation costs rose 40 bps to Rs2.5 crore. The company's same store sales was almost flat at just one%.
On this Shrikhande said, "there is definitely a concern with the same store sales being 1%. Although the like to like sales increased 1%, we have seen regional differences between zones this quarter. While the North and East continued to grow double-digits, the West is running a negative."
"I still think we can aim for 5% increase in like to like sales in the remaining quarters. We are very much on target to open eight stores a year for the next three years," he added.
Currently, the firm operates 52 Shoppers Stop stores, 11 HomeStop stores, 81 Crossword book stores, 12 HyperCity stores, 22 MAC cosmetic stores, 12 Clinique outlets and 39 Mothercare stores.
Shrikhande said he expects Hypercity to break even in the next three years as it has been able to improve its Ebidta during the quarter.
For Crossword, he said the company is correcting the merchandise mix as movies and music as a category was dropping.
"We are also right sizing the number of stores that are there for us. We have seen some closures in airport stores where the contract got over. While we opened four stores, we closed seven this quarter," Shrikhande said.


India's 1st US-made C-17 aircraft to arrive in 2013

Manufacturing of the C-17 or Boeing heavy-lift military transport aircraft, which will roll out with Indian colours on its T-tail and the cockpit, had begun in January this year  

Long Beach (California): The first of India's ten ordered Boeing heavy-lift military transport aircraft has got its shape at an exclusive 'major join' ceremony here attended by the top Indian diplomat of the region and Indian Air Force officials, reports PTI.
The global aerospace giant Boeing integrated the forward, center and aft (rear) fuselages and the wing assembly of India's first C-17 Globemaster during the airlifter's "major join" ceremony on Tuesday.
Officials from the Indian embassy in San Francisco and IAF drove ceremonial rivets into the aircraft, a key milestone in the programme.
India's Consul General in San Fransico N Parthasarathi called the ceremony as "practically riveting the Indo-US relations".
"This momentous occasion, where we see India's first C-17 take shape, further strengthens our growing relationship.
As India strives to become a global reservoir of highly skilled and technologically sophisticated manpower, we will witness an escalating technology transfer, collaborative joint research and development, and co-production of defense items between our two countries," Parthasarthi said as he addressed members of US and Indian Airforce, Boeing company and a select number of people from both the countries on Tuesday.
Parthasarthi was accompanied by a team of senior IAF officials who had flown down from India especially for Tuesday's "major join" ceremony.
"With this ceremony, we expect the first C-17 to be in India by June next year," Air Commodore Sanjay Nimesh told PTI on the sidelines of the event held inside the Long Beach manufacturing facility of the Boeing. .
Parthasarathi also said that India has ordered purchase of US equipment to the tune of $9 billion and there was "much more to come".
"This is a proud day for the highly skilled Boeing workforce and our newest customer (India) to celebrate a major production milestone," Boeing Airlift vice president and C-17 programme manager Bob Ciesla said in a statement.
The manufacturing of this aircraft, which will roll out with Indian colours on its T-tail and the cockpit, had begun in January this year.
The nine others are expected to fly into the country in specified timelines by the end of 2014.
India had inked the official order for procuring ten of these aircraft in June last year which made it the largest customer of the 'Globemaster' after the US Air Force.
India plans to use these multi-purpose flying giants for humanitarian relief and assistance during floods and other calamities, strategic lifting and transport of large contingents of troops and military equipment to any part of the country at a short notice.
The IAF is expected to base its C-17 fleet at Hindon.
The aircraft is powered by four-engines, has a rear-loading ramp and can take a payload as much as 164,900 pounds and boasts of a take-off from a 7,000-foot airfield and land on a small unprepared airfield of 3,000 feet or less.
The aircraft, used by 18 other countries like Australia, Canada and the UK can fly 2,400 nautical miles and can be refueled mid-air.
It is said to be a workhorse for aeromedical 'care in air' sorties and evacuation and can fly long haul missions.
The ceremony was cheered upon by a number of Indians who work with the Boeing company here in Long Beach and senior officials and workers from both the countries.
The Indian plane, heavily plugged with wires and mechanics, stood aloft on its landing gear in its raw paint yellow colour, sporting the Indian flag on the cockpit.
The Long Beach Boeing facility in California state is the third largest aircraft manufacturing site of the aviation firm in the United States.
Boeing has delivered 245 C-17s worldwide, including 217 to the US Air Force.


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