Nitish was urging Selvakumar to join the college study tour to the picturesque Kulu Manali. For two reasons, he did not want to join those going for the college tour. One, it was not a compulsory one and two --- most importantly, he could not afford such luxuries in life --- at least not at this stage when he was studying on educational loan and for other expenses, depending on his father’s meagre income. But Nitish was forcing him to change his mind. He even offered to bear the cost of his share of picnic expenses. He repeatedly quoted the proverb. ‘Opportunities knock but once. So, grab it.’ He was referring to the college bearing a portion of the expenses on a sharing basis, say, one is to two. That meant college would bear one third and student had to pay two thirds. Selvakumar was in two minds. No doubt it was a very good opportunity. Otherwise when would anyone go to such hilly places? But it was a question of self-prestige – unnecessary obligations from Nitish.
Nitish threw a trump card which bowled Selvakumar. In a few more months there would be a campus interview and those lucky students who got through, would be offered plush positions in reputed companies. Of course, after they completed the course and got through in their final examinations. Selvakumar was rated as one of the bright students in the college. If he fared well in the campus interview, it was as good as having secured a job. Nitish said, “I will bear your expenses now. You pay me back when you start earning. That day is also not far away. Okay? I will pay right now and ask the organisers to include your name.”
For a fraction of a second, he hesitated. As he was quite confident of his performances both under curriculum and extra curricula, he simply nodded yes to Nitish. At home, he was not comfortable as the news of his going on college tour was not appreciated. It was seen as big hole in the measly budget. Later they consoled themselves as though his first salary was spent in advance and on himself. All of them had high hopes of a better life, once the boy got employed. A big support to father, dreams of wedding bells for sister Padmavathy, purchasing a few items of comfort for the family from mother’s point of view… all these and much more kept aside presently as distant dreams would come closer to reality, once Selva alias Selvakumar got employed.
Time and tide waited for none. Selvakumar joined those fun- loving enthusiastic students and boarded the train to Delhi. From New Delhi a luxury bus was already arranged. All arrangements were meticulously planned including a banner with the name of the college, year and their batch incorporated. There was a special team in the college for the purpose which took care of their needs. Some students fond of trekking had come prepared with special accessories and shoes. That was at an extra cost fully borne by them. Selvakumar enjoyed every bit of study tour, specially their cool comfortable stay at Shimla. He even thought that he should arrange for his sister’s honeymoon at Shimla and nowhere else.
Kulu and Manali were also equally enchanting. Nitesh was teasing him. “See what a great loss it would be for you if you had not come here and enjoyed all these natural bounties? Have you ever seen such a fine silvery streak racing and flowing with us?” He was pointing to river Beas. Tall pine trees and oak trees also swayed and nodded with him. Selva was looking at the big boulders on the path of river Beas. What a great force the river should be having to roll down those boulders from the mountains above! The rugged path of the river was full of small and big boulders. While his eyes were fixed on the river’s course, he failed to notice that the bus had stopped. His friends shouting and screaming in great excitement were all gaga. They even hugged the driver for his notable gesture of stopping the bus so that the boys could have a greater fun at the river side.
Without losing a minute, all of them got down and ran towards the silvery streak. Chill breeze striking on their faces made them shiver for a second. But that also was enjoyable. River was shallow at some places, enough only to drench and flow over their feet and deeper at some other points. Nitish dragged Selva and both were in knee deep waters. They splashed waters on one another, noticeably expressing their excitement. A passer-by just cautioned them to be careful on slippery boulders. When in mood, nothing would stop their jolly and merry making spree. Some jumping like monkeys, some hopping and climbing the slim tall trees, some wading through waters, it was all fun and fun only.
The same passer-by drawn by their screechy cheers turned around to see what made them so happy. What he saw was something terrible. He was horribly stunned and aghast at the shocking sight. He ran towards them shouting at the top of his voice asking them to run away from the riverside. “Hey, run-run-run, run for your life. The floodgates are opened at the dam-site. Run for safety Rush and run.” Not even feebly his voice was heard. It was simply lost in the loud sounds forceful flow of river. Beas in her wildest form. Fast and furious. Never seen her before, in such a form. Huge volumes of water with thunderous sounds were gushing in with a very strong force. In the wake of its forceful flow, the river simply swept and rolled everything into a mass and gushed ahead. The cheerfully screaming boys now yelled for help. ”Help-help. God save us… Please lift us up... Don’t know swimming… Save us… Raama… Krishnaa,.. Murugaa… Jesus.. Mummy … appa.” All screamed in different tones different words, But, none of them could withstand the fury of gushing waters. In a flash of second, the scene of laughter and merry making changed to a ghastly scene of wails. How many got injured, how many survived and how many died nothing could be ascertained.
The bus driver did not enter the water and he was the lone survivor and the only witness for the deadly show of watery graves of many. He was in jitters and he cried bitterly. He could still feel the warmth of the boys’ hugging him a while ago and now they were under the fathomless waters. What happened to Nitish, Selvakumar and others, nobody knew. Newspapers gave headlines.TV kept flashing breaking news, repeatedly showing the furious river and gushing waters. Some freak images of men being thrown hither and thither were also popping up.
Back home, parents and relatives of those students who went for study tour, gheraoed the college authorities and demanded details of their wards. Selva’s father was also there. His grim face was paler than others. For others. It would mean a loss of son or ward. For him, it was much more than that. A loss of future of all three remaining members. How could they survive without Selva? He was about to be a breadwinner of the family, a pillar of support to all, messenger of dreams of a bright future. All hopes shattered, he stood with others holding a dim ray of hope against hope. Soon the college hoisted a black flag indicating zero survival of those who went to Manali.
The college became a war-torn battle ground with cries and wails. Some with weak frame of mind hurled curses on the college authorities. To cut it short, the college held a condolence meeting and washed off their hands. Others had to go back with profound grief and sorrow. For many it was more painful to be denied of last glimpse of their dear old son and to be denied of lighting his funeral pyre. Selva’s family could not reconcile to their lot. Their hopes and dreams also got drowned along with Selva.
They say, Time is the best healer of wounds. Padmavathy discontinued her studies and picked some job to support her crumbling family. Slowly and with a broken heart they had to eschew the harsh reality of demise of Selva. Time alone should heal their wounds.
Far away from this small grieving family was another one in a small village in Himachal Pradesh. A few weeks ago, one villager noticed a young teenage boy lying unconscious on the banks of cool and serene Beas River. He took the help of some more villagers and lifted him. They took him to the local primary health centre. Soon they declared that the patient required major treatment and he should be taken to Manali or Shimla. The villager was not rich enough to render such medical assistance. The villagers had Himalayan hearts but not Himalayan purses. An NGO along with another one MILAP, came forward to take care of the patient. At Manali he was admitted. After the initial treatment not going well with the patient, the doctors had no choice than to amputate one of his leg. Required bigger money. More than that the very permission of the patient was necessary. Selva the patient was already torn and tattered. He was wrecked beyond repairs. Now adding to that the doctors had pronounced amputation.
He screamed and shouted. “Why did you save me? Why did you not allow me to die? I am already half dead. What can I do without legs? Oh! Please, please give me poison. I am such a useless creature. Please help me to die.” Even if he was not ready for amputation, the pain of injured leg was so severe and becoming unbearable. The wound inside the leg was slowly turning septic. He simply wished he breathed his last and ended all his pains and miseries.
The doctor had told him that in the fury of flooded waters, he was tossed and thrashed against boulders resulting in broken bones and multiple fractures and injuries. Also, he remained unattended for a day or two. All these had a catastrophic effect on his left leg. Hence the amputation.
When Selvakumar was engulphed by the giant waves, then itself lost his hope of survival. When he was tossed between boulders and dragged along with whirling waves, he simply had no thinking power. He had already lost his conscience. When his left leg was stuck between two boulders and was getting squeezed then too, he was not in his senses. Others might wonder how he survived such treacherous perils and proclaim it was a miracle. He on the contrary wondered why should he survive. He had long back lost his survival instincts. All he wanted now was peaceful death.
Reeling in pain, he closed his eyes. He heard some ladies talk in feeble voices. “Here is one young man who does not want to live. He wants to die. There is one old man who is begging for life. He wants to live. He needs kidneys urgently. If anybody donates then only, he can survive.”
Selvakumar immediately opened his eyes and saw two nurses talking to themselves. They wrongly construed him to be under sedation and were talking. Now they realised their mistakes. They were about to leave when he called them and said he would gladly donate his kidneys. A small noble deed before dying. As a sheer coincidence, the son of the kidney patient came to see the nurse and heard Selva’s willingness to donate.
What more was needed! The doctors found the kidney to Selvakumar found to agree and was suitable. A deal was struck. The kidney patient agreed to pay for Selva’s all -inclusive medical treatment, viz. cost of amputation, surgeries, tonics, rehabilitation, crutches etc. And not contented with this a job offer of a school teacher in his charitable trust. Selva could never believe that there could such people also living on earth. ‘Oh! God! You are great.’
The assurance of job offer was simply nectar falling on his ears. Selva’s life took a U-turn. From his death bed he sprang into life. Of course. Loss of leg was a big loss and to mentally adjust to that, was another challenge. He realised that one after another, an array of challenges had become part of his life. He had learnt to accept life without any expectations. Occasionally he used to think of his parents, his home sweet home. He immediately would dismiss such thoughts. Nobody would welcome a handicapped person and that too stumbling with crutches.
At the school where he was teaching, there was a lady teacher. She was half blind with very poor visibility. But she had a marvellous mellifluous voice. She was there as a music teacher. She was simply admired for her talents but more than that because of her motivational talks and behaviour, she had become a true role model for all people around her. No one would consider her as a physically or visually challenged person. Her inner strength was beyond all limits. She was fondly called Akkaji.
She often told Selva to go back to his place, meet his people, contact the college, get the certificate, seek permission to complete his technical course, enhance his capabilities and so on and so forth. Upon her repeated advices and pressures, he came down to his town. He initially did not have the courage to see his parents. He remembered Akkaji’s words and bucked up spirits. Alas, there was nobody living there. Aiyo! What could have happened to them? Was he for another blow? Were they alive or not?
He gathered guts and called the neighbour. The uncle who came out, on seeing him, slammed the door and rushed inside. What an insult! Unmindful of that, again he called. This time his son and Selva’s friend came. He too was shocked beyond words. The person whom he believed dead and reduced to ashes, was standing right in front of him. Alive and smiling. He straight away asked. “Are you Selva or his ghost?”
“Yes. I am Selva, your friend. Have you ever seen any ghost with crutches? By the way where are my people? Parents, Padmavathy? How are they doing now?”
“It was very painful to see uncle. He only performed your death rituals. Considering this house to be ill fated they moved out. Presently they are living in Ravinagar. Please don’t go there. They cannot bear to see you in this wretched condition. Please go back from where you came. If you want to see them, come home only as a rich man.”
He took him along and went to the college, met the principal and narrated the tragedies and horrible life experiences. Principle on his part assured him of all help possible. He remembered Selvakumar as a bright student. No doubt about it. Now he was proud of him to see him as strong motivated matured individual. Anybody having undergone the turmoil and tragedies would be heart-broken and reduced to a bundle of wreckage. But Selvakumar having lost everything, his youth, his leg, his credentials, was standing as a symbol of true energy and strength. Principal openly praised him for his virtues. Selvakumar acknowledged those compliments and transferred everything to Akkaji.
Principal also advised him not to meet his parents as they were of brittle minded souls and simply could not accept their dear son limping and holding crutches. They had already reconciled to accepting the loss of their only son. But they certainly could not accept the partially dead son. A dead man is welcome but not a physically challenged man.
Selvakumar also agreed. Not everybody gets a chance to meet Akkaji and refines himself. He was lucky to have met her and reshaped himself. Selvakumar was out there to prove that a dead-man also has a future.
Truly future beckons the brave. Future beckons him.
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Reading this story makes me realize: not everyone has the chance to live in a good house in peace; no war, no natural disasters... Well-written one, Shyamala! Would you mind reading my recent story out, "(Pink)y Promise"? Thank you :D