Lost Mother to Cancer, This Odisha Man Now Helps Cancer Patients

Pandemic or not, Abhimanyu Das continues to selflessly help people.

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Video editor: Veeru Mohan

Wake up, Work, Eat, Sleep, Repeat: For Abhimanyu Das, a book salesman by profession in Odisha’s Cuttack city, life was a routine affair. His book sales and marketing business coupled with the printing press established by his father were reaping good profits. All was going well in his life till 1998, when his mother passed away due to cancer.

“Life came crashing for me. My mother was my strength and losing her created a void in my life. Fortunately, we were financially well-to-do, so we could take care of her medical expenses till the end. But, when I saw other cancer patients suffering in the hospital, I realised not everyone is fortunate like us. My mother’s death instilled the seeds of social work in my mind,” says Abhimanyu.

Lost Mother to Cancer, This Odisha Man Now Helps Cancer Patients
(Photo Courtesy: Tazeen Qureshy)

Fresh from the pain of losing his mother, for the next few years, Abhimanyu started helping others, but in a limited way. His work as book salesman often compelled him to travel to different districts in Odisha and he could hardly devote time to helping others. But, little did he know there was another incident waiting to change his life completely.

“In 2002, while I was away for work, I met with a serious road accident. My ligament was damaged and I was advised bed rest for several months. Over the course of the next few years, I underwent four operations. Unable to work anymore, my younger brother took up the sales job while I was confined to my home. One day, while reading the newspaper, I came across a story of a poor man who wanted some monetary help. That was a heads up for me. From that day, I would search for such stories in the newspaper and reach out to the concerned people and extend help,” says Abhimanyu.

On one hand, he went on helping others, and on the other, his own health was getting affected.

Though the operation was successful, the doctors advised against travelling, as it could hamper his health. Abhimanyu’s father then decided to convert their printing press into a book binding shop and asked him to work there.

Lost Mother to Cancer, This Odisha Man Now Helps Cancer Patients
(Photo Courtesy: Tazeen Qureshy)

“I was already helping people while I was under bed rest at home. But, when I took over the book binding business, my father asked me to keep aside a portion of the profits every month and use it to help others. So every month, I would keep Rs 2000 aside and spend on purchasing medicines, food or clothes for needy people and patients.”

While he worked for everyone irrespective of the disease, Abhimanyu wanted to do more for the cancer patients, having faced a personal tragedy. As fate would have it, he dealt with more personal blows – his father-in-law, elder brother and his brother-in-law – all passed away due to cancer in a span of six years.

Lost Mother to Cancer, This Odisha Man Now Helps Cancer Patients
(Photo Courtesy: Tazeen Qureshy)
“It seemed like destiny. One thing led to the other. It was as if God was trying to tell me that I was born to help others. When my brother-in-law passed away in 2009, I knew this was my fate."
Abhimanyu Das

It has been 11 years now that Abhimanyu visits the Acharya Harihar Regional Cancer Care Hospital and SCB Medical College and Hospital daily without fail. He treats minor injuries, personally looks after the need of patients and also gets food for those without a family. Over the years, he has developed a connection with the doctors and hospital staff, who consider him as their own now. In fact, ‘Abhi bhai’ is a popular face in the area.

Lost Mother to Cancer, This Odisha Man Now Helps Cancer Patients
(Photo Courtesy: Tazeen Qureshy)

His dedication to help others has not wavered even in times of COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, he is more careful now, and abides by the safety regulations provided by the hospital authorities. The Acharya Harihar Cancer Care Centre, which is his primary work station, has reported over a hundred positive COVID-19 cases, but that doesn’t stop him from helping patients.

Lost Mother to Cancer, This Odisha Man Now Helps Cancer Patients
(Photo Courtesy: Tazeen Qureshy)

“Why should I stop helping others,” he quips when asked about working during COVID-19 pandemic. “We are fighting the disease, not the patients. I can’t abandon people just like that. On the contrary, in testing times like these, my work is doubled. Of course, I wear face masks, head gear and even PPE kits while entering the affected area, but there is no question of not helping.”

Lost Mother to Cancer, This Odisha Man Now Helps Cancer Patients
(Photo Courtesy: Tazeen Qureshy)

Abhimanyu has not restricted himself to just facilitating the basic needs of poor people. He also cremates dead bodies – a gesture he started in 2006, when a locality near his house abandoned the dead bodies of a father-son who had died due to tuberculosis, due to social stigma. Since then Abhimanyu has cremated over 1,300 dead bodies and has lost the count now.

Lost Mother to Cancer, This Odisha Man Now Helps Cancer Patients
(Photo Courtesy: Tazeen Qureshy)

Interestingly, he is not a part of any NGO, nor has any intention to join one, despite several offers. He believes his service to mankind is ‘God’s gift’ and shouldn’t get belittled by monetary gains. His wife and teenage son have also come to terms with his nature and extend their support to him.

“Not many would believe this, but I have never faced any monetary issues while helping others in these 11 years. Somehow, each time someone would come forth to help or I would need to make just one phone call. I never had to run from pillar to post arranging for money. This was a further indication that God was with me in my endeavour to serve people. So, I decided not to commercialise my efforts. There are several NGOs who have offered me work, but I refused. My intention is selfless - to give others, and not take anything in return. This is the only way I will be satisfied and content.”

Lost Mother to Cancer, This Odisha Man Now Helps Cancer Patients
(Photo Courtesy: Tazeen Qureshy)

For Abhimanyu, there are no such future plans. He wants to continue helping others till he is alive. In the process, he has already inspired many youngsters and hopes that the good deeds will continue even after he is gone. Former India cricketer Mohammad Kaif also shared Abhimanyu’s story in a tweet recently.

“After watching me work, some youngsters were inspired and have started emulating me. A cricketer like Mohammad Kaif is tweeting about my work. What more do I need? Helping others has given me satisfaction which no other job could have given,” Abhimanyu concludes.

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