Nisha Kumari, 5, cries to be lifted in her mother's arms and insists on going home. But for that, she will have to wait, at least for a couple of days.
Nisha is among the 24 children admitted to the Patna Medical College Hospital (PMCH). The kids fell ill after consuming
insecticide-contaminated mid-day meal at the Dharmasati Gandaman primary school under the Jajauli panchayat of Masrakh block in Saran district on July 16.
Nisha is still under constant watch, as she lies in the paediatrics intensive care unit. She is the daughter of Pano Devi, the cook who did not eat the school meal as she was indisposed on the fateful day.
Pano Devi had six children - four daughters and two sons. She has already lost two - son Rohit, 4, and daughter Suman, 11, who consumed the meal of death.
Pano sits on the floor beneath her daughter's bed in the PICU. She is silent. She is clearly deprived of sleep and has not taken a bath after the accident. She cannot gather energy even to stand up and talk. She is least interested in the food that comes her way, provided by a social worker.
"My children have died of the food I cooked. How can I eat ever?" she mutters, "If only I had known of the consequences, would I have ever cooked?"
Pano is not alone in grief. The faces of attendants, who sit beside their children, bear similar expression - crestfallen and traumatised.
There are many families which have lost one, two or even three members and others are fighting for life in the ICU, step down unit and wards of the PMCH. They have clearly not been able to come to terms with the grief that has struck them.
In all, 26 children and cook Manju Devi were admitted to the PMCH. Of them, two children - Mamta Kumari, 10, and Shanti Kumari, 6, have passed away.
Balli Mahto's eyes are swollen. He sits restlessly beside his son Mantu, 10, on bed number 10 of the ICU. Mantu cries furiously as he sees a nurse coming towards him with an injection.
His frail arms have been punctured a number of times to save his life, which he, obviously, does not realise. If he had his way, he would jump out of the hospital bed and run.
His mother Gyanti Devi holds him for the injection. She has already lost her other son Ashu Kumar, 5, and does not want to lose Mantu. She weeps silently, stops and weeps again.
The vermillion on her forehead has fainted. She cares precious little about her haggard look.
The common thread that binds them is the underlying pain. Far from their home, away from their families, they have not even been able to mourn the death of their loved ones.
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