Mummu Nanhu Muhammad continues to talk in Bangla. This former police officer from Bangladesh knows we cannot understand him. His bespectacled son, Tasmin (19), an engineering student, who is being treated at PGIMER (Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research), Chandigarh, for an immune system disorder at the Advanced Pediatrics Centre (APC) smiles and translates.
At a time, when medical news starts and ends with the Covid-19 pandemic, and several small hotels in Chandigarh have stopped operations, the duo, who have been in the city for months now thank places like the Hans Raj Trust Dharamshala established in the year 2000 inside PGIMER’s campus that continuing to provide rooms to patients (and their attendants) who are undergoing treatment for diseases other than Covid.
“Diseases like the ones my son suffers from means months in treatments. Owing to the pandemic, most small hotels or rooms available for rent have closed shop. The ones operational are apprehensive taking in attendants and patients, even if they are not in town for Covid-19 related disorders,” laments Muhammad.
The Sarai, mostly houses children (and their attendants) suffering from blood cancer and tumours owing to its proximity to the APC, boasts of low tariffs –Rs 40 per day besides a heavily subsidised canteen that also serves meals. Built and run by the Hansraj Trust, which even gives away the earnings from rooms to the hospital, it boasts of two blocks with 81 rooms, eight dormitories and two halls besides a laundry and locker facility.
“It was the brainchild of my grandfather, the late Hansraj Singhal who wanted to build an extremely affordable place where patients undergoing long treatment could reside,” says Sudheer Singhal, who manages the affairs now.
Adding that though everybody is worried about the pandemic, people seem to have forgotten that other diseases have not stopped stalking, Singhal adds: “Where do the other patients go? Where do they stay? Of course, we undertake regular sanitisation of the premises and ensure that Covid appropriate behaviour is followed.”
Jalandhar resident Manju’s eight-month-old son was diagnosed with leukemia in the year 2000, and she stayed in the sarai with him for four years. He passed away in 2019. Now her one year old daughter Mannat has been diagnosed with Aplastic anemia. “And I am back… My husband works in Malaysia so it is just me. I could have never afforded any other place except this one.”
Jaswinder Singh, a resident of Nayagaon near PGIMER, who used to give out one of his rooms to patients and attendants, says: “We are too scared to allow patients now, even if they don’t have Covid-19. I may sound heartless, but we are just too scared. The same holds true for most landlords in this area who used to do that earlier.”
Singhal tells IANS that the monthly expenditure is close to two lakhs and around seven lakhs are spent on maintenance every year. “Not a penny is taken from any other organisation.”
Adding that he hopes that his children will continue the legacy, he says: “In the near future, we are planning to add more facilities including an elevator.”