Gushing memories of the lost and found sister
Vol 0 | Issue 1
It has been almost ten years since I first visited Sendai in Japan. Now lying half drowned by a devastating tsunami, it used to be a beautiful city with a vast population of lush green trees perfectly at ease with the surrounding economic activity. Till last Friday. I have just finished watching the traumatic images of destruction and reports of the dead or missing in Japan. In any natural disaster while it is possible to quantify the material damage in dollars or yen, the trauma to the families of those affected defies all attempts. I should know all about that.
The year was 2005 and the day, July 26. Rains had finally come to the parched earth of Delhi and the clouds of dust were buried for the time being. It was nearly 7 o' clock in the evening when the phone rang. My brother-in-law from Mumbai called to say that the city was drowning in torrential rains. Switch on the TV, we were told.
There was more. My sister, while returning from office, was stuck at the very spot where the flooding was at its worst. Traffic had stopped moving. She had abandoned her car and was walking with several hundred other commuters, in waist high waters. And it was ten minutes since she called. His voice broke. "Please pray everyone! I could not speak to her after that. She is not answering her phone. Please keep trying to call her....!"
Anjna at Sendai during her trip to the Japanese city in 2000
Shock. Disbelief. Then cold numbing fear. We went through all of these in those few minutes. I was about to fly back to Singapore in a few days. We tried to book a flight to Mumbai but the runway was under huge sheets of water. There were no trains as tracks lay flooded. We clutched our phones and waited. Soon most mobile networks in Mumbai went down. The residential phone lines too were cut off as water had begun to seep into the junction boxes. We tried asking for help from all possible sources in Mumbai but were told that most of the major roads were impassable and one could forget about driving anywhere or even safely walking.
24 hours passed and there was no news of my sister. The news channels covered the situation 24X7. We found ourselves joining the crowds of people sending out heart wrenching SMS on TV to their missing loved ones. The scrolling messages were like a whiplash across the heart but our only link.
My brother-in-law walked many miles in knee deep waters to various police stations with my sister's photograph. His feet were torn and bleeding because of loose debris in the waters on roads. He then went to hospitals where some of the injured were. He even visited the morgues when more than 40 hours had passed and still no word about her. Lifting the white sheets from the faces of the unknown dead, was the worst experience of his life, he later told his wife.
And what about us in Delhi? I had expected my mother and father to crumble with worry and fear but although they had gone very silent and there was this thin line of grey around my father's mouth, they never gave up. "She is fine,” was all I heard from them. "Just not able to communicate.”
I spent a lot of that time praying. Like them I too could not believe that my sister, the prettiest, the kindest and the most intelligent girl in the world, could be lying trapped somewhere or worse...
48 hours passed. We were to leave for Mumbai in the morning. Some of the scrolling messages on TV were now full of thanks to God by those whose loved ones had been rescued.
It was night. We were sitting in my parents' bedroom. No one wanted to talk and then the phone rang. My father answered it and something in the sudden immobility of his features clutched my heart. He handed the phone to my mother in silence. Her response was different. She gave a half strangled cry of joy and began to sob. No words were needed after that. We just hugged each other and wept in happiness and overwhelming relief.
My sister was safe, on top of a half constructed building with muddy swirling waters still surrounding the place. Her phone battery had died long back and there was no electricity. She had spent 2 nights half sheltered in incessant rain. She was cold and hungry but she was all right. She was all right!
Last year when some flooding took place in parts of Singapore due to unprecedented rainfall, my sister emailed me some tips on surviving floods, especially when the car engine stalls and the windows don't roll down in an automatic car.
My heart goes out to the families of those who went missing today (in the Japanese tsunami). I pray they come back to them the way my sister came back to us.
Anjna Rawat Pratap is a Singapore based technical writer