A new meaning for ‘blood relatives’


A new meaning for ‘blood relatives’
In solidarity with Pakistan: Volunteers with their banner at the blood donation camp in Delhi.

One of the volunteers who organised a blood donation camp in Delhi in solidarity with Pakistan shares his experience
By Samir Gupta

Samir Gupta

Samir Gupta

Ten years ago, a visa officer at the Pakistan Consulate in New Delhi told me that I could not get a tourist visa to visit Pakistan since I had no “blood relatives” there. Recently, thirty Delhi-ites decided to give the term a new meaning.

It was the day of the Peshawar school massacre and India was overcome with emotion. There were wonderful messages of support coming from Indians from all over the globe. Social media groups were flooded with #IndiaWithPakistan.

Scrolling down the posts in the Aman Ki Asha Facebook group, I saw one from Vasanthi Hariprakash. She had read about an appeal for blood for the Peshawar victims and was asking how we Indians could send blood across the border.

It sounded like a wonderful idea to me. Having organized blood donation camps in the past, I knew that blood can be put in an ice box to stay fresh for seven to eight hours. I figured that I could travel to Amritsar with some friends, campaign there for some more donors, have a private blood bank package the blood and send it across the Wagah border onto Peshawar from Lahore in a flight.

I booked a flight to Amritsar, called up my friend Diep Saeeda in Lahore to arrange for someone to the Wagah border to collect the donation and then fly the blood to Peshawar.

We were all set to go till Delhi-based businessman Parmod Pahwa pointed out that blood may be in a restricted category for import into Pakistan and/or export out of India. He then contacted the Pakistan High Commission to try and sort out the bureaucratic hurdles. He also proposed that we collect the blood in Delhi and fly someone to Peshawar via Lahore. Friends like Ravi Nitesh from Agaaz-e-Dosti in India also joined in the planning efforts.

Pooja Garg: school-teacher scared of the needle

Pooja Garg: school-teacher scared of the needle

I called up my cousin Pankaj Jain who works for the blood bank at All India Institute of Medical Sciences to find out more about how the blood should be packaged. Pankaj told me that our plans were impractical and the only way to send the blood was through Red Cross. I was in the process of calling them when we learnt that there was enough blood in Peshawar, and the appeal for blood had been withdrawn.

We discussed it decided to go ahead anyway. Even if we could not send the blood over, we wanted to make a statement of solidarity. The last remaining problem was to find a blood bank that would organize the blood donation camp for us. My experience told me that this required at least a two weeks’ notice.

The next morning I called up five different blood banks in Delhi, the Red Cross and the Rotary Club but none of them could organize it over the weekend with a two day notice. By the middle of the afternoon I had spoken to everyone I could but there was no hope. On the other hand, Parmod was in touch with the Pakistan High Commission to check if they could host such an event. However, they could not do it due to the short notice and the number of permissions that they would have to seek from the Indian authorities.

I was about to give up when I had an idea. Red Cross has an office in a very central location in Delhi and we could organize the donations in their premises on Saturday, 20 December 2014. That way they would not have to send a team elsewhere. They agreed to our proposal and we were all happy.

Amandeep (Andy) Singh designed the banner, Ravi and his colleague Devika Mittal publicized the cause in their youth group.  Ram Mohan Rai from the Gandhi Global Foundation joined in the cause. Gurpreet Singh Anand, who had independently spoken to Parmod about the same idea, invited friends from a Gurudwara. Meanwhile the Facebook event we had created was getting a lot of attention.

On the day of the event, going over to the venue, I told the taxicab driver about the event. As we talked, he said his name was Gulshan Aror

a and he wanted to participate. He had never donated blood before but he wanted to express his solidarity. When we reached the Red Cross building, he joined our volunteer team as we got to work, setting up the banner, the poster and a desk the office provided.

Four donors were already waiting even before the Red Cross staff arrived to start the donation. As we began, a smartly dressed young man walked up to me and said, “I just saw your banner and I want to participate in this solidarity event.” He said he works for a bank and asked if he could invite his colleagues to join us.

Gulshan Arora: taxi-driver who joined in the cause

Gulshan Arora: taxi-driver who joined in the cause

He came back a short while later with six more people. As the donors stood in a queue, I noticed an anxious young lady. I learnt that her name was Pooja Garg, she is a school teacher, and a first time donor. She was really scared of the needle but was keen to participate. Her friend Sahil Jain was disappointed that he was not allowed to donate blood due to high blood pressure.

Mukesh Mahipal took a break from an important business meeting and drove 15 miles to the venue, only to be denied because he is on medication while I was rejected because of my fractured arm.

When the doctor disallowed Parmod from donating blood since his heart rate was 98, I said jokingly, “The reason for his high heart rate is that it is beating 49 times a minute for India and 49 times for Pakistan”. Parmod looked up and smiled. Determined as ever, he cajoled the medical staff into allowing him to donate.

Ravi Nitesh and Devika Mittal from Aaghaz-e-Dosti took full charge of the event till pack up time. Other volunteers must also be credited for their time, effort, and passion for the cause — Madhulika Narasimhan, Madhavi Bansal, Paromita Bardoloi, Swaleh ul Islam, Arvind Kumar Lodhi, Surjit Anand, and Veena behn.

It is quite ironic that a tragedy has triggered emotions at this scale. I wish people could all be like this under normal circumstances. I wish the people of the two countries could meet more often. That will melt the ice faster than anything else. Let us hope that our Governments listen to what the common man is saying right now about our relationship.

The author is an IT professional and a peace activist based in Ghaziabad, India.
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