Meet 28-year-old Soumitra Mandal, Bengal's Oxygen Man, who dons more than one cape at a time

Soumitra Mandal is a teacher providing free tuition and arranging scholarships for poor students, but more recently he's being hailed as the Oxygen Man
Soumitra on his rounds (Pic: Soumitra)
Soumitra on his rounds (Pic: Soumitra)

Wouldn't it be great if the Avengers were real? Well, we might not have an Iron Man or even a Spiderman or an Ant-Man, but Bengal has got its own Oxygen Man. Soumitra Mandal, a 28-year-old from Gosaba in the Sunderbans, will be there anytime anyone needs oxygen in any of the nine islands in the area. He carries an oxygen concentrator on the back of his bicycle and goes from village to village to help people (mostly COVID patients) who are in need of oxygen but cannot get to a hospital immediately from these remote areas.

Soumitra, a diabetic himself, delivers medication to people across the islands. Even though the local administration helps him and NGOs have provided support with medicines, he refuses to take monetary donations from anyone. "That's where it all goes wrong," he says and smiles. "Generally, once I give them oxygen, the patients stabilise. But that also depends on whether there is an uninterrupted power supply. Power cuts are very common in these parts and the oxygen concentrator works only on electricity. There have been times when the patient has needed hospitalisation and I have helped them get to the hospital as well. While delivering medicines to COVID-19 patients, I also call the consulting doctor and give a report on the patient's condition," added the graduate. Soumitra was also down with the virus a couple of months ago and is still recovering.

That's not all Soumitra does. After he completed his graduation in Geography (Honors) from Surendranath College in Kolkata, Soumitra went back home to start working as a teacher in a local school. "I was staying with my relatives, a little off Kolkata. But after my graduation, my father could not afford to pay for my higher education and I had to come back home. I joined a local government school as a part-time teacher for a nominal salary of `3,000 a month," narrates Soumitra. "I started teaching the disadvantaged kids of the area for free and 18 out of those 20 students scored over 80 per cent in Geography in their Madhyamik exams. Word spread and I started teaching more students. At that time, I was the only Geography teacher at the school. In 2019, I lost my job after the government appointed a full-time teacher for Geography," he adds. But Soumitra never stopped teaching the kids.

He also helps students get admission into schools and colleges, and helps them with scholarships from social welfare organisations too. But there's a catch — they have to fulfil four clauses to be eligible. "I am just the medium. I do not have any money of my own. I connect the students in need with the people who can help them. I have also helped them get grants from NGOs or social welfare organisations but there are four clauses — they shouldn't agree to child marriage (mostly applicable for girls), if they get a good job, they have to help at least one disadvantaged student, they will take care of their parent(s) and lastly, they shouldn't get addicted to any harmful substances. If they fulfil these and keep performing well, they get the scholarship. I keep a close watch on how they are performing. If they fail to get good results without any genuine reason or violate any of the four clauses, they lose their scholarship," adds Soumitra.

The block officials help Soumitra with his work and his travel across islands have been made free. A patient of severe diabetes, Soumitra is not always up for travelling, more so after he was affected by COVID-19. But whenever he feels fit enough, he can be seen on his bicycle, (now) an oxygen concentrator strapped to the carrier, on his way to the next call.

Breathe In
India might have seen its worst tragedy when the second wave hit and the oxygen scarcity claimed many lives, but now we are helping other countries with their oxygen needs. India just supplied 100 tonnes of liquid medical oxygen to Vietnam along with 300 oxygen concentrators. We also gave two mobile oxygen plats to Bangladesh

Breathe out?
Justice Shekhar Kumar Yadav of the Allahabad High Court, on September 1, urged the Centre to make 'cow' the national animal and said that “scientists believe that the cow is the only animal that inhales oxygen and exhales oxygen too”. Just to clarify, there is no solid scientific theory to prove that a mammal like a cow breathes out oxygen

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