The First And The Last

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It was evening. After a day’s hard work Sooraj was eagerly looking forward to reaching home. He was excited about reaching home and placing his first salary in the hands of his mother. His only sister Sushma was studying in 10th standard. He had also brought sweets for them to celebrate his first salary. How happy he was with the job satisfaction that he had. His colleagues liked him too for his friendliness and joviality. He used to add life to the work place and make everybody feel at home in the office by his humour. Within a month he had endeared himself to everyone. The boss had appreciation for this employee. He was happy to have recruited and appointed him.

Sooraj was the only breadwinner of his family as his father had died five years ago. A massive heart attack had separated him from his loved ones. Thereafter the responsibility fell on the shoulders of Sooraj. The small family just managed from day to day. Shanthi, the mother of Sooraj worked in a nearby factory. Her work was hazardous. Often she had to work under dangerous conditions. At the end of the day she was often exhausted. On many days she came home with so much stress. Tension at the work place had reduced her weight. She was also worried about her two children. She spent many sleepless nights worrying about how to give good education to her children. When her husband Suresh was alive, she had nothing to worry as he used to bring home enough provisions for a month.

Shanthi did not have much strength left in her to work for the family. She was waiting for the day when Sooraj would complete his graduation and find his first job. " Don’t worry, Mummy. I will take care of everything. You need not go to work once I get a job" his words had filled her heart with hope. She longed to see that day when Sooraj would happily place his first salary in her hands. She knew she would shed tears of joy that day. Sooraj would fill that void created by the sudden demise of her husband.

July 11, 2006. Shanthi had come home in the evening. Sushma was also home after her classes at school. Both of them had gone to their neighbour’s house to watch TV as they did not have one at home. The news flashed within minutes of the bomb blasts. Shanthi and Sushma were terrified at the news they heard and the pictures of trains shown. Many were killed in the blast. Dead bodies were pulled out of a blown up compartment. Hundreds of people had gathered on the tracks. There was confusion among relatives looking desparately for their loved ones. Many were trying to contact their husbands, brothers, sisters, parents and friends who used to take the daily trains from Church gate, Andheri, Matunga, and other stations to reach home. People were on their way back home. After a day’s hard work, it was but natural that they craved for the comfort of their home.

Shanthi was in tears as she could not get any news of her son. Sushma felt guilty for not talking to her brother before she left for school. How much she loved him. He was her only brother who had helped his mother to take care of her. Since her birth he had special affection for her and took her wherever he went. With what concern he used to hold her hand specially when they had to cross a busy street. With a little pocket money that he got from his Dad he used to bring her candies and her favourite pop corn. He also saved a little amount to bring her ribbons and flowers. Sushma remembered all that he had done for her. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she joined her mother in worrying about him. Every now and then she used to ask her mother " Mummy, our Sooraj will definitely come home, right?" Both of them prayed in their hearts for his safe return.

Sooraj had boarded the train at Churchgate. It was moving towards borivili. He had many of his friends and colleagues in the compartment. They talked and discussed about many things. From cricket to soccer to tennis to films. How quickly the time passed. It was good fun in the train every evening. The typical Indian train that made friends of strangers who discuss every topic under the Sun. It was a feeling of India being a big joint family. Everyone somehow belonged to this great cultural heritage. Some sang popular film songs while others entertained the passengers with their stories. There was hot news along with a cup of hot tea or coffee.

""…He would happily call out "Mummy" and place his first salary in her hands.""

Sooraj was happily lost in his thoughts. He could not express his joy this evening as he was carrying home his first salary to be proudly placed in the hands of his mother. He imagined how Sushma would come running and put her hands round his neck and demand sweets. He had already planned to make everyone happy including himself. So he had also bought his favourite sweet mixture. And how could he go home without a new dress for his one and only Sister? In fact he had left the office a little early that day to make his purchases in a nearby mall. He had bought a beautiful saree for his mother and a new dress for Sushma. The thought of reaching home with all the surprise gifts made him forget the whole world.

It was 6.25. Sooraj just looked at his watch. He would reach home within a short time. He would happily call out " Mummy" and place his first salary in her hands. Was he lost in rapture? He cried "Mummy" at that horrible sound that tore the compartment into pieces and blew up everything into the air within seconds. Sooraj did not even know what had happened. He found himself thrown on the tracks. The train had been attacked by the terrorists. The bomb blast shook the earth deafening their ears. Within seconds people were in a pool of blood. The cries of agony were reaching heavens. A severely wounded Sooraj fell unconscious.

As the news reached every nook and corner of Mumbai, people began to panic. Many had no clue as to where their relatives were. Were they safe? Were they taken to a nearby hospital? Were they in the train?….were they alive?

Shanthi and Sushma began to cry, as Sooraj did not come home at the usual time. Was he safe? Was he on his way home? Would he reach home in a few minutes from now?  They could not stay there any longer as none of their questions had any answer. With the help of their neighbours they rushed to the spot. They looked for Sooraj everywhere. They visited several hospitals. There were long queues of people waiting to donate blood. Hundreds were crowding the hospitals to look for their dear ones. Shanthi and Sushma managed to enter one hospital. They rushed to the ward where the seriously injured were admitted.  Sooraj was there with a heavy head injury. He was unconscious. Both Shanthi and Sushma broke down when they saw him in a critical condition.

Some of his friends had collected whatever he had in his hands and placed it at his bedside.  They saw the new saree and the new dress that he had carefully held in his hands at the time of the blast. They wept when they saw his pierced feet and his severely injured head. They stood there speechless praying to God to bring him back to consciousness.

The doctors asked Shanthi and Sushma to move out, as they needed to shift him to the operation theatre. They waited outside with so much fear in their hearts.

At midnight the doctor on duty came out to meet people waiting outside the operation theatre. Many were in a critical condition. He told the relatives not to worry. He assured Shanthi and Sushma that he would do all he could to save Sooraj.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as Shanthi sat there hoping to see her son come back to life. She had no one to support her and her daughter. How eagerly she had waited for his first salary. She wanted to celebrate it with so much joy at home. How the sudden events had changed her destiny. Her motherly heart cried for her only son now battling for his life.

At half past two, the doctor came out again. He did not know how to break the news to Shanthi and Sushma. He asked the nurse to take them to a room and comfort them. Sooraj had succumbed to his injuries. The breadwinner of the family had lost his chances to win his battle for life. Cruel destiny had separated the only son from his mother and only brother from his sister. What a tragedy it was! Terrorists had struck again killing innocents and destroying property. They had won but the innocents had lost their loved ones. Sooraj was not even fortunate to take home his first take home salary. Little did he know that that would be his first and last salary.

The Sooraj of the family had set in the west never to rise again in the east.

Author: Cyril Vas- Bangalore

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