Stories

A Tentative Smile Grows

It comes as a bit of a surprise when Sasikumar really takes to the Cajun at HealthServe, drumming a steady beat on it with one hand and bobbing his head to the rhythm. Very quiet and reserved, Sasikumar is a man of few words, and at first, this character carries into his Cajun-playing. He starts out unsure and shy, a little reluctant as if embarrassed that he might make a mistake.

Once he gets the hang of it, however, he starts playing with energy and zest. He comes vibrantly alive, if for a moment. “One hand also can play,” he says lightly, with a shy smile – one hand, because his right hand is always tightly wrapped in gauze, a situation that hasn’t changed for a few months.

When he takes off the gauze to show others his injured right hand, one is naturally taken aback by how horrific his injury is. His entire hand is covered with scar tissue, and its uneven colouring bears the tell-tale marks of a skin graft operation. An Indian construction worker from Tamil Nadu, Sasikumar was pouring a drum of boiling hot tar onto a Singaporean road when the tar spilt onto his right hand. He suffered from third-degree burns, and to date, has not recovered functionality in his right hand.  

Sasikumar’s life has been marked by instances of great loss. Supporting his aged mother, wife and a 9-year-old son, Sasikumar is only 38 years old but his whole future – and that of his family – has been cast into uncertainty. Before coming to Singapore, the loss of his two older children to illness has made him dearly treasure the only son he has left. Without asking, he voluntarily shows a picture of his son, the first thing he sees every time he opens his wallet.

When he came to Singapore, he had to pay $6,000 in agent fees, and he still has $4,000 outstanding. Even working 6 days a week for two whole years, Sasikumar still struggled to repay his debt because he only received $25 a day in wages. Now, however, it has become practically impossible to provide for his family. After his injury, he has not been able to send back any money for 5 months. Although his boss has been footing his medical bills, his company has stopped giving him his rightful salary. As a result, Sasikumar cannot pay for his son’s school fees, nor even 4 months’ worth of dormitory rental fees.

Given his tight financial situation, it is no wonder that Sasikumar constantly bears tension and anxiety behind his characteristic mellowness. In fact, his boss had initially visited him twice at the hospital but wanted to send him back home after just 2-3 physiotherapy appointments, even though he was clearly far from a full recovery. Faced with his employer’s increasing unwillingness to help him, Sasikumar had no choice but to engage the services of a lawyer to handle his case. But in the meantime, he had nowhere else to turn for his daily meals until he came to HealthServe.

As Sasikumar became a regular at our Desker Food Project, he gradually began to open up to the HealthServe staff and his fellow migrant brothers, sharing more personal details about his life and joining us on outings. He is often caught on camera beaming quietly, as he poses with an optical art exhibition at the Trick Eye Museum, or curiously examining a cannon exhibit at Labrador Park, or even snapping his own photographs on the recent College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT) photograph walk. On Wednesdays, he joins other migrant brothers in cooking for the Food Project, dishing out yummy meals like fish curry for everyone to eat. 

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“I like to come to HealthServe to relax, be away from my room, take my mind off my worries,” Sasikumar shares. At the moment, he is still attending his physiotherapy appointments. Only when he reaches a certain level of recovery certified by his doctors can his medical assessment be carried out, and finally submitted to the insurer for his injury compensation. Until then, Sasikumar can only wait. 

Yet, over time, we see his tentative smile grow stronger and more certain, as he begins to find his place in our community.

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