MYSURU: Shankar Majhi, who has been driving oxygen tankers, has not seen his five daughters for a year, yet he is more concerned about the decanting of his liquid oxygen tanker, which has become more valuable than “sona”. A small misstep can leave many gasping, with Covid-19 cases in a spiral in Karnataka. Majhi has been behind the wheel of oxygen tankers for the past 20 years, but says he has never seen so much demand or done so many trips in his entire career.
He and his codriver, Mohammed Hakeekath, both from Bihar, take turns to run at least three round trips a week -- to Koppal and back -- transporting oxygen without a break. “Many lives depend on this oxygen. There are dangers on the road and technical issues too, but a delay in reaching the destination can create many problems. In such an emergency situation, we do not even stop for tea through the entire eighthour journey. During the decanting too, we have to be around, and until the tanker reaches the oxygen plant again, we are on our toes,” he said.
“Earlier, we used to take a day’s break between trips but now there is no time for that, we just take turns and rush to hospitals,” he added. Majhi, father of five daughters and a son, says that he has not met his family since the first wave of the pandemic. “I stayed back, unlike the others, during the first lockdown,” he said.
‘Kids call, but duty more important’
Watch our video story about Shankar Mahji, an oxygen tanker driver, who has not seen his kids since last #COVID19 wave and is on a hectic schedule now, ensuring supply of oxygen to patients, @UdayUdayphoto2@XpressBengaluru @NewIndianXpress #COVID19India #CovidIndia @santwana99 pic.twitter.com/A8TD6HnPtW— Ajith M S (@ajithms) April 27, 2021
“Every time my daughters call, I feel like going back, but my duty is more important now,” Shankar Majhi said, adding that he gets only his basic pay and not even special allowance for the extra duty and risk that he is taking. Mohammed Hakeekath, who joined work just six months ago, says he never expected it to be so hectic. “We never thought it would become like this, but when we see patients around the hospitals where we deliver oxygen, we cannot complain and we just forget the need for rest,” he said.