Dr. Aswini Kumar Sarma: A Year After A Devastating Personal Tragedy!

That was sometime in the month of May 2018. I was a bit late to wake up and my brother-in-law had already left. He had to attend a high-level meeting in Guwahati and so had to leave very early in the morning. I got up immediately and looked out of the window that opened upon the front side of their quarters, and was just in time to see my brother-in-law getting into the car and the car moving slowly away. As it turned out that was the last time I saw him. Of course, he called me up several times during that day inquiring about the status of my wait-listed train ticket for which he trying with the railway officials, and finally, in the afternoon he only informed me that the reservation was confirmed. As I was seen off by my sister in the Bongaigaon railway station for my journey back to Kolkata I felt unusually sad, didn’t know the reason why.


I visited my hometown Guwahati in May 2018 as my mother, Urmila Chakravarty who continues to write books even in her early eighties, was serious and hospitalized recently. The day I arrived she was already back in my sister’s house with a heart monitor attached to her which hang from her arm like a handbag. After my arrival at my sister’s house in the car sent by her to the station she informed me that they had decided to take mother to their Bongaigaon quarters, because there she would get constant attention from my brother-in-law and the township hospital nearby where my brother-in-law was the Chief Medical Officer. So we left for Bongaigaon the next morning and I spent three days with them before going back to my workplace as mentioned above.


By brother-in-law Dr. Aswini Kumar Sarma (Sunny, as I used call him lovingly) was married to the eldest of my two younger sisters in 1989 when Sunny was a doctor with the Assam state health services during which time he also completed his MD in medicine from Dibrugarh Medical College and Hospital. Two years later he got an opening in the medical wings of the Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOCL) and joined as a doctor. He was very happy in his new job and often talked about the facilities there in all respects of life. When he was serving in the Begusarai (near Barauni in Bihar) Refinery township hospital we visited them twice and in the second visit we did some medical tests and investigations both for me and for my wife Ragini under Sunny’s active supervision. My sister Mitali Chakravarty Sarma had been serving as a college lecturer after her post-graduation and gave it up post marriage as the post was still not sanctioned. They have two lovely sons, Sagarneel or Papu as is called at home (now working in the US), and Akashneel (graduated from St. Stephens in Delhi and now doing PG in JNU as well as appearing for civil service examination). Akashneel or Piu as he is called at home has been a constant help to his mother in the traumatic years that followed from 2018 onward, when I felt unreasonably sad after leaving their home.


Later in 2018 I was shocked beyond measure when Mitali informed me that Sunny was severely ill after his blood sugar shot up uncontrollably without any clinical reason as he has always been a healthy and cheerful person, and a very intelligent student, since his childhood days. He had to be shifted to a hospital in Guwahati where it was found that his liver got damaged almost irreparably. In a very critical condition he was later airlifted to a Delhi hospital where my younger brother Jyotirmay Chakravarty (an IPS officer who took voluntary retirement in 2020) helped them in every possible way. His life was saved and after a few more days they came back to Guwahati and then to his workplace in Bongaigaon Refinery township. What followed was one of the scariest and the most unusual experiences I ever had in my life.


During the time when he was severely ill, I was wondering about what could have actually contributed to it. Having a very close and endearing relationship with him since 1989 I came to a few causes that could or could not be true or entirely false. When in Barauni Refinery township hospital and during the official visits he paid to Mumbai at which time I was working there, I found him to be very ambitious wanting to serve in important cities of India outside of Assam. However, after his transfer to Guwahati where he had bought a flat he was transferred around only in the small towns of Assam, and he had to stay away from his family staying back in Guwahati most of the time. This, I found to be crucial, because he was always very fond of staying with family/kin and enjoying social mixing immensely. His requests for a transfer back to Guwahati were ignored all the time and instead the company put him up in Bongaigaon, his final posting eventually. My worst doubts were confirmed a bit later as I mentioned above.


Dr. Aswini Kumar Sarma, a very able, efficient and patient-friendly -physician-doctor, was no longer allowed to work peacefully in his workplace in Bongaigaon that he really worshipped. Due to the possible envy and rivalry of a few medical colleagues a kind of harassment in workplace haunted him constantly making him scared to go to office. After trying several times to work normally he failed and started staying at home indefinitely. Almost the entire year of 2019 and the pandemic-infested 2020 had been spent in extreme pain and trauma for him and his family. On numerous phone conversations with him I always tried my best to encourage him to take his rivals head-on and do his duties normally. Although on many occasions he sounded positive and spirited nothing concrete happened as my sister used to inform me occasionally. During that traumatic time he visited Delhi to appeal to the higher-ups of the IOCL for a transfer to Guwahati under genuine medical grounds, but there he was insulted and humiliated in front of his wife. Even then, he never preferred  going against his company and prevented his wife from any complaining outside, so sincere and dedicated he had been in his career.


His absence from office was considered unaccounted, and Sunny was now very much concerned about his future benefits after retirement and did not want to take voluntary retirement because of the same uncertainty. His due promotions were also denied. On several occasions he visited his office along with his wife, and literally begged them for being allowed to work and to regularize his unauthorized leave. But every time the in-charge who superseded him in an improper way insulted him calling him unfit and to go and sleep at home. There were many other allegations made against him and his family. The ghosts of uncertainty continued to haunt him till the 17th of September 2020 when a threatening email was sent to him to explain his unauthorized absence from work.


And then came the 18th of September, 2020, a black day for our larger family and friends. In the afternoon that day when I was sitting listlessly looking out of the balcony in Mumbai, my brother called me and to my horror of horrors informed me that Dr. Aswini had passed away suddenly. I called up Akashneel immediately and came to know of the tragic demise. All was over in just five minutes: he took his lunch normally and in quite a good spirit and went for his usual afternoon nap. Moments after Mitali joined him he suddenly shook violently, and by the time he could be taken to the hospital he was declared dead. He could not even utter a single word about what happened to him, being a doctor himself. My sister said later that the hospital staff did not cooperate as was expected in an emergency. The final diagnosis was a massive cardiac arrest. A doctor died, in the prime in terms of his future services to his loving patients all over.


A year passed, and during that time there was not a single day when Sunny’s smiling face did not come to my mind, and more tragically, because of the raging pandemic and I being a senior citizen, we could not even visit the bereaved family and relatives till now. I only solaced myself through writings and my active help in the struggle for justice launched by Mitali and Akashneel who were also helped by one of my paternal first cousins, Debashish Thakur who is a lawyer, my youngest brother-in-law Sasankagupta Kashyap and Aswini’s youngest brother Utpal Kumar Sarma. I also activated a few friends in the IOCL. Some consolation came recently with the IOCL finally acknowledging some wrongdoing in the refinery, promising to look into it, and the company regularized Dr. Aswini’s all unauthorized leave and also announced a one-time compassionate financial grant. But all came too late, as we lost a good doctor unnecessarily and under most tragic circumstances.


On the first death anniversary of Dr. Aswini Kumar Sarma we can only share the pain with all family and friends, particularly Sunny’s mother who lost her eldest son and more shatteringly lost her first daughter to COVID-19 recently, and my mother who lost his first son-in-law. Sunny always took full care of all of us starting from my grandparents to ourselves, and my mother had been under his medical supervision till the end. Today we pray for him and for all other doctors who died prematurely due to various reasons including the fight against the pandemic, while serving for the better of us all the time.


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