In the Bihar capital, one man strives to get oxygen cylinders to victims breathless from Covid

Gaurav Rai loading oxygen cylinders in his car for delivery; Photo by Ranjan Rahi

On April 8, when Amit Sanyal saw his oxygen levels falling, he dialed Gaurav Rai for help. Rai wasn’t a friend but Sanyal knew the person they call Patna’s ‘Oxygen Man’ was his best hope. The next day, even as Sanyal’s oxygen level plummeted below 90, Rai walked in with a cylinder. “He entered my room without any fear about getting infected, fixed me with a mask and a 10-litre cylinder and also gave me a pep talk,” Sanyal recalls. A day later, Rai delivered a cylinder for Sanyal’s mother who was also Covid-infected. Sanyal says he owes his life to Rai’s timely help.

Rai, 51, is general manager at a company in the Bihar capital that manufactures high-security number plates. Gaurav discovered the philanthropist in himself last July after he got the virus. As he gasped for breath, his wife struggled to arrange an oxygen cylinder for him. After he recovered, Gaurav and wife Aruna decided to pool their savings to buy 10 oxygen cylinders. As cases spiked, their doorstep delivery service was much in demand. Determined not to stop the service, the couple purchased more cylinders.

It has been a tireless process. From loading the cylinder in his Wagon R car, putting the patient on oxygen, getting the cylinder back when the patient recovers, refilling it and then taking it to someone else in need. He has not taken a day off since the second wave began.

As of May 16, Rai has some 144 oxygen cylinders out of which 100 are with various Covid patients. He withdrew Rs 5 lakh from his own savings to buy most of these cylinders. Several of his beneficiaries have also donated oxygen cylinders. An oxygen distributor tops up his cylinders at a concessional Rs 100 per cylinder.

In December 2019, Rai had lost his voice after a vocal chord infection. He had even contemplated suicide at that point. The Covid-19 infection had an unintended side effect—it restored his voice. And also brought him a new purpose in life.

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