Bathinda to Bikaner, aboard ‘cancer train’
In the final days of Rajasthan's heated campaign, both the Congress and BJP focused on the Ashok Gehlot government's free medicine scheme. The embattled Gehlot sees it as his best weapon, and the upbeat BJP obviously thinks it too. Away from the politics of it, those who welcome it whole-heartedly are people of neighbouring states, who are lining up at Rajasthan's hospitals. Sweta Dutta reports.
7.30 pm, Bathinda railway station
It is a damp cold evening. Sudden showers have washed the platforms clean while pulling the mercury a few notches lower. Pushpinder Kaur, 45, staggers down the narrow metal stairs, her son Pawanjot and sister-in-law Kuldeep Kaur following close behind. They look for a dry spot on the platform, spread out a bedsheet and sit down. The three-hour bus ride from Tarn Taran district always takes a toll on Pushpinder, debilitated from her battle with breast cancer.
A little distance away, Jaspreet Kaur, 32, bundled in a blanket, lies against a kiosk while elder brother Gurmail Singh and his wife Manjeet Kaur sip tea.
The last train from Mansa, a neighbouring city, has been bringing an unending stream of passengers to the platform, and it is now bustling. Some share pleasantries, others just a weary smile. They are not friends or family, but they are not strangers either — something more immediate than blood ties joining them together.
"Cancer. They are waiting for the cancer train," says Rajendra Singh, who has been running a tea and snack kiosk on the platform for a decade now. "Over the last two years we have been seeing them. I can tell from a single glance. The disease leaves its ghastly mark."
It is in Punjab's water, Singh stresses, adding, with a pause, "Hope you haven't had the unpackaged water here."