Dhalabari, India – It was a hot summer night in 1991. Karimul Haque washed his clammy, mud-soaked hands and sat down to eat.
Forty cents a day wasn’t enough to make ends meet, but after a long, hard day under the sun, working as a labourer at a nearby farm, Karimul was looking forward to a hot meal and a night’s sleep.
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He had barely touched his rice when he saw his 10-year-old nephew running up to him, screaming, that his grandmother was unconscious. Karimul ran towards her room where he saw his mother lying prostrate on the floor.
The next five and half hours were a blur.
“We didn’t have any money for an ambulance. My brother and I tried knocked on every door, pleading our with neighbours to take my mother to the hospital. But no one helped us,” Karimul Haque recalls.
At 3:30 in the morning, his mother, Jafaran Nesa, died. She was 45 years old.
His mother’s death, which he’s convinced was preventable, kept gnawing at him for several months. He thought no one in his village should meet his mother’s fate. Karimul started working as a tea garden worker and put all his savings into buying a bike.
For the past 15 years, Karimul has split his time between working in the tea garden and taking patients from his village and surrounding areas to hospitals for free.
He ties the sick and the injured to his back with a cloth, starts the engine of his rickety bike and ploughs through the bad, pockmarked roads, crossing wide rivers and thick forests.
His village, Dhalabari, is nestled between the outer foothills of the Himalayas and lush, fertile, plains in eastern India. A picturesque strip of land dotted with tea gardens and dense jungle where animals roam freely and often get in the way of travellers, making Karimul’s journey even more dangerous and precarious at night.
Tea garden workers earn $1.80 a day for eight hours of work and have to pick 24 kilos of tea leaves. Health is a luxury very few in those parts can afford where a trip to the hospital might cost them a fortune.
Karimul takes them to health centres and hospitals for free and visits labour lines to see if anyone needs help.
Karimul says he has saved 4,000 lives. His small front room is crammed with awards and certificates. Earlier this year, he received one of India’s top civilian honours from the country’s president.
The owner of his tea garden, impressed by his success, now lets him focus more of his time on his ambulance service. Karimul’s two sons, Raju and Rajesh help him out these days.
“I want to build a care centre outside my house so that people don’t have to travel far. I want to keep doing this work and then, when I die, my two sons will carry my mission forward,” he says.
Filmmaker: Priyanka Gupta
Cameraperson: Angshu/Priyanka Gupta
Editor: Andrew Phillips
Executive Producer: Yasir Khan