Shruti woke up quite early that morning. She ran to the hall where her mother was sitting with her cup of coffee and the newspaper. Shruti hugged her mother and asked 'How many hours, mumma?'. Her mother smiled, '..another 11 more, baby'. Shruti was both happy and excited, yet very restless.
Being an only child, coming to India for her vacation was always something she had waited for. Her grandparents, her uncles, aunts and most importantly her cousins. While having breakfast she imagined herself playing in the garden with her cousins at this very time the next day. She couldn't wait to get there.... She saw herself sitting at the window sill watching the rain. Her grandmother would've saved some of her favourite mangoes for her. Her granddad would take her around the village. She wouldn't be asked to come back in and study for now she was going to enjoy her long vacation.
By lunchtime Shruti was losing the little patience that she had. She phoned her father, 'Pappa, come soon. We need to leave early. Shruti is counting hours now. Only 6 more. Mumma took leave today. Why didn't you?' Her dad replied, 'Pappa's chootie baby go help mumma pack. Pappa will be home soon. Why doesn't pappa's chootie pie make sure she's carrying all the gifts she's brought for her sisters and brothers?'. Shruti told her dad that she'd already checked all of it twice since morning. She decided to cut some comic strips from the newspapers, compile them and carry them to read in the flight.
After a long long wait and pestering her mother, it was time for dad to come home. Shruti went to mother and said, 'Pappa will be here now. Give me food. Shruti shall have dinner now and then get dressed.' Mother complied. By the time Shruti got dressed dad was home. When she went to the hall, pappa called her to him and said, 'Chootie pie... Pappa has some more work at the office. So chootie and mumma can go today and pappa will join you in a few days.' Shruti got angry but it was better than all of them delaying the trip.
She bade goodbye to dad and asked him to come soon. She could feel her heart beat faster as she moved towards the emigration. When the lady at the security check pulled her cheeks and said 'Have a nice vacation dear..', she was reminded of her neighbour in India. This aunt would keep pulling her cheeks so badly, it would actually hurt.
She was so much closer to home now. She had only the sweet; she was too excited to have anything else. She watched Harry Potter for a while and then slept. When she awoke it was almost time to land. Her uncle, Pranav and Aditi would be waiting outside to receive her.
Anand was at home finishing up some work and waiting to talk to Priya and Shruti as soon as they landed before going off to sleep. He closed his laptop and switched on the television. David's call woke him up. David had wanted to know which flight they were on. Anand sensed that something was wrong. David said that he was at the door and asked Anand to let him in. David held him and said that the flight had crashed near the airport just before arrival and that rescue operations had begun. Anand's brother had informed David. Anand frantically dialled Siddharth's number, 'Siddarth.. where are they?'. Siddharth said, 'They say that there are survivors. Don't go by the news. Not as many are actually feared dead.' We are all here trying to find out. Don't worry. Priya and Shruti will be fine. Just keep faith.'
Anand switched on the television. He called a friend who was working with the airlines and told him what happened and that he wanted to know how they were right away. David tried calming him down but Anand yelled, 'Leave me.. Its my life we are talking about here.'
It was impossible for Anand to reach there soon as the airport had shut down. It was now only the waiting game. He couldn't remember the last time he'd prayed. A couple of friends came home too, each making calls and trying to figure something out. After waiting for almost one killing hour and making a million phone calls and denying everything that came on television, Siddharth called to inform Anand that Shruti was safe. That he was in the ambulance with her and that she was shocked but otherwise okay. Anand spoke to his child and told her that everything would be fine and that he would be with her in a little while. Thats when Shruti asked, 'Pappa where's mumma? Shruti doesn't know what happened.'
Anand collapsed. He cried. He felt helpless. He felt frustrated and angry. If only he had been with them. He was to have been with Priya through thick and thin. Priya... the love of his life. Where was she? His friends consoled him that if Shruti was alright, Priya should be okay too. Then why didn't they find her. God, please.. please don't take her away from me. I cannot live without her. She is my driving force, she is my strength. Please Lord, she doesn't deserve to die. She is the purest person that I have ever known. I will do anything. Just give her back to me. I will quit smoking. I will spend more time with her. ANYTHING. Just give her back to me.
David let out a loud cry in the middle of a phone call. He rushed towards Anand and hugged him.
The next day.
Anand reached the hospital and was with Shruti in the room. He watched her sleep. Tears kept flowing from his eyes. He hoped it wouldn't wake her up.
The attendant asked him to accompany him.
He was in a trance. He walked through many corridors then took the lift to the next floor. The attendant led him into a dimly lit zone; asked him to remove his shoes and wear a mask; he held the door open.
Anand entered the ICCU and saw priya's face. He silently thanked everything and everyone. He couldn't hold her yet. She was being treated for burns. He was told that she would be alright in a month. ANYTHING for giving her back to me. He went near her bed and she whispered, 'I bet you've quit smoking.
With prayers for all those who lost their lives in the AI flight at Mangalore and commiseration to those who lost a loved one....