Thursday, July 27, 2017

The day after 26/7: Part IV: Home, while I was away

The final and concluding part of the most eventful three days of my life is here. It was almost as if I did not want to recollect the traumatic incident to repeoduce it here. But some very dear friends managed to coax me to complete it. For the first three parts, you can click here - Part I, Part II and Part III

28th July, 2005. 1pm.

My mom opened the door and loudly announced without a smile, "She's here." My brother came rushing to the door and gave me an angry stare and told mom, "Give a call to Kurla Police station."

I walked in wondering where all the welcome hugs and smiles went.

"Where is your phone?" Brother charged at me.
"It's here with me but it isn't working." I started clarifying.
"Get it out, give it to me, let me throw it away. If it's of no use during emergencies, then it's of no use at all!"
"Whose clothes are you wearing?" He finally asked the question I was expecting to come first.

Mom was busy at the phone, "Let me call your dad first", she told us.
"Where's dad?" I inquired cluelessly.
"He's out looking for you. Do you have any idea how the last 30 hours were for us? Do you have any idea what your dad went through?"
Huh? Dad!? And I told Lini's family my dad would be cool while my mom panicked.

Mom managed to talk to dad over the phone and informed him that I was back.
"You go and pick him up. He must be weak from all the things he saw there," she told my brother. He left from home almost instantly.

What did he see there? My mind was getting overly imaginative. I had so many questions but no one seemed to be in a mood to be calm with me. 

But mothers cannot stay angry for long. "What happened after yesterday's early morning call?" she sat me next to herself.
"After that call got cut, I got your call again. The phone rang but the answering button wasn't working."
I then narrated my wet adventure in great detail to her.

Ours was one of the very few lucky landline phones that were working in the locality during those flooded days. The news of me missing had spread like wildfire and my mom had been answering calls of friends and relatives from all around the world. Each call must've just added to their worry.

Mum told me how worried everyone had been ever since I got out of touch on 27th morning because the last thing I told them was that I had started walking in knee deep water holding hands of strangers. She told me how restless and sleepless dad was the previous night and kept asking mom the time so that he could set out looking for me and she kept trying to keep him calm. When it was crack of dawn, he had set out to look for me.
She added, "About 20 minutes before you rang the bell, I made a pact with God." That is probably when the taxi driver decided to bring me home instead of the man who was already in it.

While we waited for my brother and dad to return, I tried to call Lini, but in vain. The phones in her area weren't functional. I went and took a much needed bath. It felt good to be home after an unexpected, long outing.

The doorbell rang. Dad was back. It was time to show him how very alive and fine I was AND time to find out what he saw there.

"First, you give a call to Kurla Police Station," he told me.
"Police Station? Why?" I was puzzled.
"Just call them, tell them your name and say that you reached just now."
I took the number from him and did as he said. It was a very short call and the person on the other side sounded glad. I went back to dad, eager to know the details. But he wanted details from me first. So, I narrated my tale first. Then he spoke.

Since he knew I was in Kurla, he went there in the morning and looked for open manholes. He did not see any. Then he spoke to the locals. They told him that everyone in the locality was helping in giving shelter to stranded people. After asking around in a few places, he went to the police station. The policemen were very kind and polite to him and he wondered why. They added my name to the list of missing persons. Then one of them asked dad to go with him.

Try visualizing this part ...

The policeman took him to a heap of dead bodies. I try not to imagine the stream of emotions that he went through while he looked at all those bodies, hoping not to spot me. New carts (those vegetable vendors' carts) were coming into the police station, each with a dead body on it. My father had to look at each of those lifeless faces. Most awful moments of his life, I know. But he had to look, just to make sure and because he was determined to find me...

And then his phone rang. The voice on the other end said, "She's back home. She's perfectly fine."

What a moment that must've been for him. He waited at the police station till my brother reached and saw everything that dad saw, but with completely different emotions because he knew I wasn't in there.

I sat beside my father, listening to the tale of death, hiding my shivers when I realized how lucky I had been to find an angel called Lini among those hundreds of stranded people to keep me safe till nature's fury died down!

We decided to pay her family a visit and we did, when things in the city had come back to normal.
We also informed our relatives and my dear friends who looked for me in buses that were shown on news channels.

God had blessed my family when so many had lost their loved ones.
Today is the death anniversary of hundreds of fellow Mumbaiites. May their souls rest in peace.