Hidden in the corners of central Kolkata, a brave and fearless man resides. Winner of the Padmashree amongst various other awards, Bipin Ganatra is a gem of a human being. Residing in a one bedroom flat, small enough for one person only, he has no complaints and his face is always one of happy.
Q: How long have you been at this selfless task?
Ans: It has been forty years.
Q: What motivated you to be the hero you are today?
Ans: My mother was a social service worker back in my childhood. Soon after, my elder brother met with an accident – burn case - that changed my life. Ever since I was inclined to help people in crisis such as this. I would run behind fire brigades if I would see one on the road. Although, I was not very successful I soon developed a habit out of it. Now, I depend on the news on television and radio. Immediately, I make a call to the control room and find out the location and reach the spot.
Q: How do you keep up with the occurings?
Ans: I watch the news at night, regularly.
Q: How do you reach these locations?
Ans: I use public transport, taxis, buses, whatever at my disposal. Sometimes my friends in the area help me out by lending me some money which I make sure to return the next day.
Q: How do you make a living?
Ans: I am an electrician by profession.
Q: How did you feel when you received the award?
Ans: See, my work and the award are both completely different things. I give more importance to my work than the award because the award does not hold as much value as the work I do. Nowadays, people give a lot of importance to awards which hampers my work. Everyone comes to invite me to events and ceremonies which would not happen before and I could concentrate in my work. I was to be free of all this because it is all a waste of time. I can utilise the time in other social activities.
Q: What about your family?
Ans: My parents are dead; I have two sisters who live in different areas in Kolkata, married. I had undergone a bypass surgery in 1994 for which I did not marry. My work is risky, life threatening. I shouldn’t put someone else’s life at risk with mine. This is why I never got married.
Q: Could you please name some of the disasters you helped in?
Ans: Stephen Court fire is one such disaster where I was one of the first few people to arrive. I watched people jump off buildings in spite of me repeatedly telling them to hold on. I was also at AMRI.
Q: How does the police and fire department allow you to be present?
Ans: Previously, they would not allow me. But my body language and work convinced the fire fighters that I was capable of doing the work of ten people at the situation.
Q: Why have you never considered joining a fire station?
Ans: It is too restrictive. Firstly, I would not have as much liberty as I do now because each fire station has a specific region they are in charge of. In case there is a fire elsewhere, I can’t be of much help. Secondly, they would not send me alone. I would be bound by rules of the department and safety concerns. Thirdly, if I did wear the uniform I would most likely be arrested in under twelve hours because I would venture into places I am not allowed to. So if I can’t help what is the point? I like it this way. I am free and I do my work. When I am needed, my friends call me and I have the liberty to rush and help. For instance, The Telegraph anointed me very well because of my contribution in rescuing survivors when the Vivekananda flyover collapsed.
Q: Tell us about your education
Ans: I am from Gujarat and I have completed school under The Gujarat Board. I was born in Kolkata. My parents had rented this house and this is where I have lived all my life. A fire station director, IPS officer D. P. Biswas presented me a uniform for my work at the fire in Central Telephone Exchange. He awarded me and another officer uniforms each for bringing such pride to his department.
Sixty year old Bipin Ganatra is a gem to our nation. Irrespective of the fame and popularity received by him, his is one of most humble people ever. A salute to this man for his bravery and his work.