“168 passengers including 80 cancer patients, 6 buses across 2800km, crossing 6 states of India in the midst of Covid-19 lockdown.”

The pandemic times were extremely difficult and harrowing. During this time there were innumerable cancer patients from Assam, who had come for specialized treatment to different hospitals in Mumbai, specifically the Tata Memorial Hospital. These patients who were desperate to go back to their homes in Assam were trapped in Assam Bhavan Mumbai, Deepsikha homes and different places around Mumbai, as travel by air or land had become virtually impossible, when lockdown was announced in March 2020.

As lockdown was announced, different hospitals in Mumbai as well as the Tata Memorial Hospital were compelled to slow down their treatment facilities due to the stringent protocol restrictions imposed by the Government. Due to this reason and several more the patients whose treatment had to be suddenly stopped due to the prevailing situation, were in a state of anguish to go back to Assam in the hope of continuing their treatment. A few among them whose treatment was over or partially completed were desperate to leave Mumbai as soon as possible and go back home.

This was when Mr. Devashish Sharma who was then the Joint Resident Commissioner of the Assam Bhavan Mumbai, decided to take the initiative to help these patients and drive them back home to Assam. This was a very difficult decision to make but Mr. Sharma stuck to it and made this journey possible. He informed the State Government about the plight of the cancer patients and their relatives. Getting to know about the situation, the then Health Minister of Assam, Dr Himanta Biswa Sharma (The Current CM of Assam) immediately agreed to offer support and asked the Assam Bhavan Mumbai authorities to bring back the patients by hiring the require number of aircrafts but, this was not to happen. As fait would have it, a few of the patients tested Covid positive and the airline company which was supposed to transport the patients to Assam, refused to operate. Though dejected by the turn of events, Mr. Sharma and his team did not give up and kept on trying to find other alternatives to transport the patients back home, who by now had started showing signs of acute depression after being refused to be allowed to travel by the airlines company.

Tough extremely risky and filled to the brim with challenges, the only remaining alternative seemed to be a journey by road. A bus journey was meticulously planned covering 2800km from Mumbai to Guwahati across 6 states. The plan was conveyed to the Honourable Health Minister who understood the plight of the patients and readily agreed to provide support and sponsor the journey which would demand a travelling period of 4 nights and 5 days. Two of the patients had even gone to the extent of contemplating suicide which they expressed openly.

Once the approval from the Government was obtained through the good offices of the Honourable Health Minister, Mr. Sharma with the help of his trusted lieutenants at Assam Bhavan Mumbai, namely Jayesh Kumar, Dhrubojyoti Sharma, Raju Sharma, Mridul Hazarika along with the staff at Assam Bhavan, Mumbai and Deepsikha did the entire spadework for the arduous journey. Ms Nita Doshi, the Head of Finance at Deepshikha played a key role in meticulously planning the journey. Dr Neelakshi Choudhary from Guwahati Medical College who was undergoing a training at Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai, magnanimously volunteered to accompany the patients in this journey. Mr. Sharma was also helped by Dr. Mrinmoyee Boruah, the Honorary Secretory of Deepsikha, her team and his colleagues from Assam Civil Service, on his journey back from Guwahati to Mumbai.

This historic journey started at 12:10pm on the 9th of May 2020. Though very meticulously planned, the convoy of 6 buses led by Mr. Sharma had to face many challenges on their way. An account of this journey has been recorded in the book named ‘Sapunor Odyssey’ written by Mr. Sharma himself, published in January 2023.

After many adventures and overcoming innumerable challenges, the convoy finally reached Guwahati in the evening of the 14th of May 2020 without a single casualty. This epic journey was one of its kind in the annals of history has been widely reported in both mainstream and social media. This journey is considered as one among the foremost success stories during the COVID times.
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