It was the third flight of the day. I had been waiting for some time now. Passengers were continually coming out of the ‘Arrival’ lounge as the music in the airport waiting area kept changing. Cab drivers outside the international terminal were looking for the passengers. The flight information board was showing “landed” next to the name of the flight we had just boarded off. The flight arrival was on time, sharp 6 PM. The sky is smeared golden, I looked around. I couldn’t find them. Due to their traditional clothes and faces, Afghans are distinguishable among the rest of passengers coming out of the terminal-3 of the Indira Gandhi International airport, New Delhi. After a few minutes of searching his face among the crowd, my gaze finally stopped. He smiled at me, I smiled back.
Last time Rezwan was here, I didn’t have the time to meet him. Passengers in groups, men accompanying women, wheelchair-bound elderly, all walk past me, speaking Persian.
Rezwan, 27, is accompanying his sister for medical treatment. Back home, doctors could not detect her ailment. This is his second visit in a month.
“Immigration officers stopped us,” says Rezwan on asking why they are late. They were permitted to travel twice in the same month, unlike the usual, only after a special permission from the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Afghans coming to India with a medical visa are allowed to stay for a maximum period of a month, beyond which they must compulsorily take a break of at least two months such that the gap between each visit is at least two months.
Watch: Rezwan lands in Delhi.
While we get busy greeting each other, cab drivers approach, “800 Rupees for Lajpat Nagar” they won’t budge further. Normally, the fare from IGI to Lajpat Nagar is 200 to 300, with a peak time charge not exceeding a sum of 500.
While Rezwan was looking for a taxi, his friend, an undergraduate student in Pune rang him informing that he had already booked a cab on a mobile App. He has to pay rupees 450.
“I thought whole Delhi would be like a film stage” he says.
It is 8:20 PM, our car is not moving, it must be from last ten minutes. “I thought only we have traffic jams due to tight roads in Kabul, it is worse here,” says Rezwan. He is getting worried. He has to book a room. Intermittently the voice of the driving App asks to turn left and right. The driver puts the radio on, Mohammed Rafi’s song is playing. It is 8:30 PM.
His sister, Zarmati moans with the pain in her joints, she falls silent.
Graph showing the number of medical tourists visiting India on a medical visa from 2013- 2016.
“For many days others were putting food in my mouth, I was not even able to pick up my food with my hands,” she says. She visited the best hospitals in Afghanistan but to no avail. She rues at the situation of Afghan people. If as a working class, privileged woman, she could not get treated there, how can common people be.
As it is winter, medical tourists flock India for treatment. Rooms remain occupied in the areas they prefer to go. Getting a suitable room is difficult, but his friend has already booked a room for him. The room rent, rupees 1600, is too much for him.
An Afghan boy came to show the room but it was dirty and he did not take it. His friend was misled.
“Everyone in Delhi, including our very own Afghan translators think we are carrying bundles of dollars, and they must loot those from us,” says Rezwan.
Speaking of expensive medical tests and consultation fees of doctors, Rezwan also mentions surcharge taken by their own Afghan interpreters.
“Unfortunately, no one has control over them,” he says with anger in his tone.
I left them.
Next day early in the morning, they went to meet a doctor in the local hospital. He straightaway recommended tests that would cost Rs 11, 500. He also took Rs 7500 for an examination. This was a much higher amount than what he had expected. He had heard of India as a medical tourism destination with an affordable health care system. But with subsequent tests, he realized the expense was too heavy on his pocket.
Another day, they visited the hospital again. The doctor was not available. They waited for long, returned later in the evening. They called the hospital the next day, the doctor wasn’t back still. Zarmati was restless with pain.
Both the brother and sister had traveled without informing their offices, they had only a few days in hand. They started searching for another doctor. They visited other doctors with previous medical reports, but the doctor rejected those. The doctor asked them for another test, saying that her joints had constricted.
Watch: what doctor told Rezwan on his first visit, he narrates.
After spending Rs 85000 on the tests, the doctor advised an operation that would cost them a sum of 5 lakhs, excluding his fee. “But how could her joint move, if she had constricted joints?” wondered Rezwan.
On asking the doctor, he retorted, “you are not the doctor, I am a doctor.”
He could not do anything other than the operation. This was enough to shake him. He had not expected anything like this. He had to decide, to stay with this doctor or not. He decided to search for another doctor. This was their third day.
On the fourth day, they visited another doctor, with the hope that he might be able to be of help. The new doctor asked for more tests, which would cost Rs 18000 and prescribed injections that would ease her pain.
“Her muscles have elongated,” the doctor said. They didn’t bother to ask what the disease was called. They had their doctor. He went back. She was feeling good enough to live alone for the next fifteen days. Her pain was gone.
On the 19th day, she visited the doctor again. She was in a better position than before to return to Kabul.
Next day she was back home, to join the office again.