By P. Ravikumar
CHENNAI (Reuters) – It all happened in a flash. Barely 10 minutes after reaching a public gathering that was held in a large tent to celebrate the Indian festival of Holi, I was performing CPR on a boy who had suddenly collapsed in a makeshift pool of coloured water.
I am a freelance photographer in the southern city of Chennai and was on assignment for Reuters on Thursday, looking for pictures of revellers celebrating the festival that marks the beginning of spring and in which people smear each other with coloured powder and water.
For a photographer, Holi makes for vibrant, colourful pictures.
There were an estimated 1,000 people at the place I went to, almost all of them youngsters, and I started clicking away from a platform where a singer was belting out Hindi dance numbers. Moments later there was a commotion, and suddenly I was confronted by a boy who seemed to have stopped breathing.
I quickly handed my cameras to a fellow photographer, sat down on my knees and lifted one of the eyelids of the boy who lay motionless on his back. The eye was pale, his body stone cold.
I immediately recognised I did not have much time, and started pressing his chest, 30 times at a go, followed by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Egged on by my friends, I kept at it for four to five minutes and then finally he started to move his eyes, slowly.
Then his hands shook. He vomited water, then blood. Somebody took him to the hospital in an autorickshaw, instead of waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
I was completely exhausted by then, and later came to know he was discharged within a few hours. Somebody gave me his mother’s phone number, I called her and she said he was okay.
It’s not yet clear how the boy fainted in the knee-deep water, where many other people were singing and dancing.
But the whole incident was surreal. Only a couple of months ago I lost my 76-year-old mother, who had a breathing problem, despite me and my sister doing CPR while taking her to hospital.
The incident reinforced my belief that learning basic life-saving skills should be made mandatory for everybody. I learned during an assignment two-and-a-half-years ago covering a sparsely attended CPR demo organised by a non-governmental organisation at a Chennai mall.
My pictures of trying to revive the boy have made it to newspapers and TV news channels, and my phone has been ringing constantly.
The Times of India, the New Indian Express and the Hindu newspapers all hailed my “presence of mind”.
A news photographer has become the news, and I feel good about that. But, for me, the biggest joy is that I managed to save a family from the grief of losing a young son.
And yes, Reuters did use some of my pictures from the event clicked before the incident!
(Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Martin Howell and Raju Gopalakrishnan)