November 15, 2015
Whenever we try to conjure the picture of a government officer, the image that floats to our sub –conscious mind is that of a self-seeker, obsessed with his career, totally insensitive to the aspirations of the common man. More so, if he happens to be an Income Tax Officer. The common perception amongst general public is that an income tax officer is invariably corrupt and minting money at the expense of government exchequer. Against this abysmal dark back drop Sri Shyamal Kumar Das stands out like a shinning exception.
If you ever get a chance to visit the infamous Income Tax building – ‘Bamboo Villa’, Kolkata you will find almost everyone knows Sri Das by his first name, Shyamal-Da. As he is more popularly known will invariably be in his seat by stroke of nine thirty (punctuality as we know is a rare virtue amongst civil servants) after making a round of one of the government hospitals in the city. If you think that he is doctor then I am afraid that you have not guessed correctly. Then why does he visit the hospitals regularly? Truly speaking, he is the link between the doctors and the patients, friends and guide to both the donor and recipient.
I ask Mr. Das how did he take a fancy to this job? After all, the job of a tax official is extremely demanding which consumes a good part of his daily hours. He explains that this started as his pastime grew to be his passion and has now become the source of sustenance of his mind. It all started when he was working at Bamboo Villa, where every year special assistance were provided to general public for filing income tax returns, in the last week of July by the service associations. During the course of this program, where he worked as a volunteer he came to be acquainted with a number of doctors. Initially, requests would come in trickles from departmental officials seeking appointment with doctors or for admission in hospitals.
Slowly he developed rapport with the different doctors and the number of people seeking his recommendations for appointments increased. Then came the next transition. With the help of some fellow colleagues in the office a medical unit was set up at Bamboo Villa, Kolkata where different specialists gave free consultation to the income tax people and their family members. When this initiative fizzled out after a couple of years Shyamal has single headedly carried the burden of facilitating his colleagues for medical assistance.
Working untiringly he has developed close bonds with almost all the city doctors. He has been voluntarily advising them on income tax related matters. So much so he has become personal friends with many of them. Name any doctor in Kolkata and you can say with confidence that Shyamal knows him well. By this time the circle of patients has also increased, from income tax people to the general public. I asked him what is in this work that gets him going. He simply states the satisfaction he derives when an ailing person gets back to his feet is immeasurable.
Further the condition of the patients coming from the lowest strata has left a deep impression in his mind. His heart bleeds when helpless patients, without any man or money power are refused by the inhuman public healthcare system. He always comes to their aid by donating money for purchasing medicine or for surgical treatments or by cajoling the doctors for subsidized treatment. But he feels that individual efforts like his are only a drop in the ocean, considering the magnitude of the plight of the masses. In order to give a more concerted and organized shape to his endeavors he along with some likeminded friends have started an non-government organization called “Prayas” in his backyard, at Barasat.
The NGO not only helps people in need for medicine and treatment, financially but also gives them proper medical advice as to the best course for treatment. Recently a day long health camp was organized under the banner of Prayas where about 1400 people were provided free medical Check-up by some of the eminent doctors from different streams of specialization dispensed their voluntary medical advice to the patients.
Another feature of the health check-up camp this year was felicitation of 15 cancer survivors. According to Mr. Das, Prayas is taking active role in supporting the cancer patients for quite some time now. Considering the fact that number of cancer cases in Bengal is assuming an alarming proportion, Prayas felt it an urgent need to stand by these suffering patients. Sri Das said normally whenever a cancer patient approaches them; the NGO tries to get them the appointment with appropriate oncologist. Thereafter in case of needy patients help in form of financial aid or free medicines are provided, to the extent possible. To highlight this cause and salute the fighting sprite of the cancer survivors, they were handed over a token memorabilia and scarf by the renowned footballer Shilton Paul and international athlete Susmita Singha Roy.
Mr. Das said that at present Prayas is managing solely from the donations of its members and few outsiders who sympathize with its cause. The NGO dreams big and hopes to spread its wings in future to provide succour to many more needy patients who are virtually left helpless by the callous societal attitude.
Mr. Shyamal Kumar Das is also actively involved with another NGO – ‘Fight Cancer’ and helps in arranging number of health awareness programs. Every evening you would find him in a small room near Hridaypur railway station where poor people line up for his assistance medical as well as financial. I wish him the best in his tryst and hope many more people, fired by his example will come forward to emulate him.