The Disaster


August 30th, 2005

Today is Sneha’s 18th birthday. She smiles at me from behind the garland on the photo frame.

When did I last see her with the same happy countenance?

It was on that fateful Monday, the 25th of July.

Dad, can you drop me at the station before going to work? The rickshaw guy takes an eternity to reach during the monsoon.” She flashed the same million-dollar smile before getting inside the railway station when I dropped her. That day the sky was overcast like any typical monsoon day.

Maternal instinct probably drove my wife, Savitri, to deter Sneha from attending college, citing rainfall as the reason.

Come on, Ma, if it doesn’t rain in monsoon, when do you expect it to pour? I have an important practice to attend today, no way I can stay back home.” Sneha stuffed her books hurriedly and joined me in the car.

Things did not seem very bright throughout the morning. The sky opened up with vigor and there began heavy rains in the city of Mumbai. Soon news of water logging on railway tracks and roads started pouring in.

I frantically tried to reach Sneha. I was glad that I had some means to contact her. Had I yielded to Savitri’s tantrums over gifting Sneha with a handset on her 17th birthday, I would have felt helpless.

However, her phone was switched off.

The office staff began moving out trying to find some transport to reach home. I tried calling Sneha again but in vain. Meanwhile, Savitri called up with the same woe, “Sneha’s phone is switched off.”

Worry began to grip us when a friend of Sneha informed us that she had left college at about 11 am but her phone had been out of charge. Phone lines got jeopardized in the city. Our hopes that Sneha might contact us from somewhere dwindled further.

Throughout my drive back home on flooded roads, I was only thinking about my daughter. I reached home three hours later to find that Sneha had still not reached home. However, her friend said that she had seen Sneha trying to board a bus since trains had stopped.

All we could do was helplessly stand on our verandah and anxiously look at the entrance gate that was half submerged.

The rains were lashing and then from nowhere, we saw Sneha approaching. Wading through waist-deep water, she had almost reached the gate when suddenly we lost her from our sight. She disappeared inside the earth as if someone had pulled her down.

Savitri fell into a swoon. I ran down the steps as the lift had become dysfunctional, but there was no trace. Accompanied by my neighbors, we cautiously approached the place, and then we realized a manhole’s lid had caved in.

Gone was my daughter into a world from where we could not retrieve even her mortal remains.

Sudha Vishwanath

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