Vinod Kumar Menon.
Saying that life has not been kind to Jagannath Kaup would be an affront to his adversity. The 66-year-old has been through hell and back. And the ruinous journey has forced him to live with a comatose son, the memories of a second, dead one, reversal of fortune in business, loss of house and property, and compensation promised by the government that is yet to materialise.
For all intents and purposes, it was an overdose of anaesthesia during a minor surgery on his eight-year-old son that crushed any semblance of the usual for the Kalina-based Kaup family. The son, Suraj, will turn 40 on September 1, and has been in a semi-comatose state for the last 31 years.
The Kaups have since stretched every resource, economic and emotional, as they nurse Suraj all through these long years.
To compound their tragedy, they lost their second son as well. Prithviraj was in the third year of his engineering in 1997, when an accident at Aksa beach claimed his life.
To top it, the piece of land allotted to the family as a gesture of clemency by the state was taken over for constructing houses for government servants. The plot promised to him in its place has also been taken over, this one by defence forces.
The about turn
But Kaup has seen better times. Until the early 80s, he ran a flourishing automobile repair workshop near Colaba. His clientele included bureaucrats, politicians, senior doctors and businessmen. An incident on February 13, 1980, capsized all of that. Calamity clung to them.
His son, Suraj, then in Std III at Garodia English High School in Ghatkopar East, was at home in the same suburb preparing for a test. While using a compass, he accidentally hit his left eye with it.
His mother, Sugandhi (now 60), heard his cry and rushed to him. Unable to see any bruises or blood, she took him to the family doctor who spotted a small blood clot in the eye and advised a minor surgery.
On February 15, Suraj was to undergo the surgery at a nursing home in Ghatkopar (East).
It was a minor procedure, which doctors said would not take more than 15 minutes. Suraj was wheeled in to the operation theatre at 7 am.
Two hours elapsed but the doctors did not emerge from the OT. When they did, they were in a state of panic. Recalls Kaup, “The doctors rushed out of the OT, panicked, saying that Suraj had developed some neurological problem. They summoned a neurosurgeon. It was a case of anaesthesia overdose.”
Suraj stayed on at the nursing home with no sign of improvement. He’d come to, scream ‘daddy, daddy’ and slip right back into unconsciousness.
He was shifted to JJ hospital, and later to Breach Candy, where he was kept in a special room for a few months. But doctors there could not revive him either. The anaesthesia had left him blind in both eyes; he was losing his speech and slipping in a vegetative state.
By now, Kaup had sold all his property, including his garage, to foot his son’s medical bills that ran into lakhs. “My friends and some bureaucrats provided financial assistance thereafter,” he said.
Kaup next met the then chief minister, AR Antulay. Touched by his plight, the CM instituted an inquiry into the medical negligence, and asked the medical health secreatary to treat Suraj at the state-run St George hospital.
The plot that was offered as a replacement is now barricaded by the Indian Air Force
He also allotted Kaup a flat in Kalina under the CM’s quota, and a piece of open plot in Bandra East so he could start a garage. Kaup took possession of the flat, but, for years, couldn’t do that for the plot.
Finally, in 2004, he approached the suburban collector who informed him that the plot had been used for constructing quarters for government servants.
He offered him another plot near Teachers’ Colony in Bandra (East). A letter from the collector’s office dated August 24, 2004 (copy with MiD DAY) does mention the Bandra plot.
However, a few years ago, Kaup learnt that the Air Force had taken over this plot, and erected a boundary wall around it.
For the past few months, Kaup has been running to the collector’s office regularly, in the hope of getting a new plot. The family, impoverished and dispirited, is just about hanging on.
“I have no regular source of income. But even as we starve, we want to ensure that Suraj never faces any problems regarding his medicines and essentials. We are praying for a miracle,” said Kaup, his eyes misting over.
Suraj lies in the small bedroom in Kaup’s Kalina flat. His immunity is very low and his mother does not allow anyone to enter his room. Even Kaup is expected to take a bath before entering.
“Sugandhi has stood beside him for all these years. She has done everything for him,” Kaup said.
Even today, Suraj gets convulsions and cries out in pain. Blind and growing heavier by the day because of his inert state, the couple is trapped just the way their son is in his body.
“We are alive only for Suraj. We have lost everything. We cannot even afford to fall sick; who would take care of him then? We have stopped showing our emotions to the world.
We have gone through hell, but have always kept a plastic smile firmly in place and will continue doing that,” said Kaup.
A poignant Sugandhi is even keen to know the procedure for mercy killing. “After my demise, nobody would be around to take care of my son. My last wish is mercy killing for my son,” the mother said.
The Other Side
Asked about the Air Force taking over the plot allotted to Kaup, Defence spokesperson Captain Manohar Nambiar said, “It is an old matter, and until we refer the records, it would be difficult to make an outright statement at this point. I will have to verify the claims with the Air Force and then make a comment.”
-via Mid Day News