The sky was somber and the sea was a little ruffled. But the colour of the clouds or the mood of the sea couldn’t deter Sameer from exploring the beautiful islands of Andaman.
“I can’t lock myself in the room and ogle at this mute surf board any longer.” he thought to himself, taking long and impatient strides in the room.
He entered the bathroom to collect his beach towel and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, “I need to get rid of this stubble” he said stroking his cheeks. “Deepa likes the clean shaven boyish look” he thought smilingly thinking of his hazel eyed fiancée. The next moment his mobile buzzed, “Hey darling!” he beamed excitedly. “Where are you? Shouldn’t you be in the flight by now?” he gabbled worriedly.
“Ah! Catch your breath my man.” said Deepa running her fingers through her long and curly mane. “I am still at the airport, the flight has been delayed.”
“Naah…” he frowned.
“By the way, how did your Marketing conference conclude?” she asked. “Your participation better be worthwhile Mr. Sameer, or my HR team will not blink an eye before sacking you.” She teased him jauntily.
They worked in different departments of the same company and had met each other at an official party. Deepa’s delicate frame and dimpled smile enchanted Sameer instantly and she was impressed by his wry humour and wit. Not to mention his athletic build. Five years hence, their friendship had steadily grown into companionship. Their worlds had merged seamlessly.
“Alright m’aam” he retorted, “but trust me sweetheart, you are going to love me for this holiday- shimmering water, sunken bar in the infinity pool and candle lit chateaus…”
“Okay…” she interrupted him, “that’s enough fodder for my imagination”. “And I’ll call you again when I board the plane. Love you.”
“Yup. Love you too” and he hung the phone finding his way to the lobby to arrange for island hopping.
Just as he got on into the ferry, the mobile buzzed again. “Hey honey, good news I am finally on my way. Just boarding the flight”, informed Deepa.
“Alright darling, see you soon” and he was about to hang up. “Oh listen, the resort has arranged your pick up from Port Blair to Havelock Island by ferry. Their executive will meet you at the airport.”
“Okay” replied Deepa.
“And sweetie I am on my way to the Jolly Buoy Island for some snorkeling and surfing” he briefed her enthusiastically.
“Couldn’t you have waited for me?” she complained.
“Come on darling, I’ll be back to receive you. And what would I do anyway all alone in the hotel?” he said sheepishly.
“Fine, my adventurous boy” she said approvingly and they hung up on a happy note eager to be together.
Sameer was a daring soul and a water sports enthusiast. And naturally couldn’t resist exploring the Jolly Buoy Island. The island is nestled in the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park in the Andaman Archipelago. The pristine beaches with a canopy of tropical forests are a heavenly sight. Hidden beneath its turquoise waters is an exquisite world of coral reefs and marine creatures.
As soon as the ferry anchored, he wasted no time, put on his snorkeling mask and fins and went below the Bay of Bengal to marvel at a world so incredibly exotic and beautiful. Schools of colourful fish came towards him, a little further a giant sea turtle showed up and a parrot fish came nibbling at his toes. The experience is so spectacular that it escapes the writer’s pen.
He surfaced up a little later to catch some air and swam back to the shore. Gobbling a pesto-cheese sandwich with a Cranberry breezer, he stretched on the white sand looking at the purple sky and soaking in the salty air.
The sky wasn’t clear but the conditions weren’t particularly against surfing. So there he went again, now on his surf board, riding on the waves without a care in the world. Bobbing up and down in the waters soon his head disappeared as he went deeper and further in the sea. He was having an amazing time and so engrossed was he that he lost track of time and distance.
Suddenly he realized that the sky wasn’t the same as he had started. Sometimes your fun spills on the side of recklessness and this is what happened with Sameer. The grey clouds had come together rather densely and the waves were getting choppier. He tried looking at the shoreline but worriedly muttered, “God, I am dangerously away from the land.” and decided to retreat quickly.
There on the Mumbai-Port Blair flight, the pilot kept updating the passengers about their flying altitudes and passing over of interesting geographical locations. The aircraft was gliding smoothly when the captain announced, “Hello again guests, we are now crossing over the Eastern Ghats and shall soon fly over the Bay of Bengal before starting our descent for Port Blair.”
Deepa sitting on the window seat instantly looked below, “Wow, the ranges look so majestic and inspiring covered in a carpet of lime green….” she thought to herself and looked up smilingly, “Can’t wait to be with you Sameer”.
Sameer, on the other side, was struggling in the sea. He got off his surf board, clutched it against his body and started swimming hurriedly towards the shore. But the current was getting the better off him, pushing his body behind and the breeze had turned into hard winds. Yet he was an avid swimmer, couldn’t be intimidated easily. He accelerated his pace, chopping the waters with his dexterous hand movement and reached reasonably close to the shore.
But luck wouldn’t have it his way. Another huge wave swept over him breaking the momentum. Before he could catch his breath again, huge droplets hit his face. His nerves were now getting tensed. The brain was sending signals of fear and his heart was pumping too fast. He let go of the surf board, gathered his might and began swimming frantically again. But his efforts didn’t bear results.
The droplets were now pouring furiously; thunder and lightning had joined the scene. He was inundated under the rains and the waves. The sea had turned into a creepy monster and Sameer was caught in its wrathful grip.
On the other hand the sudden bumps in the aircraft roused Deepa from her nine winks. There was another announcement from the crew, “All passengers are requested to return to their seats and remain seated until the fasten seat belt sign is switched off.”
Ten minutes had passed but the flight was still quite unsteady. Passengers were a little uncomfortable now when the buzzer went again. This time it was the captain, “Dear Passengers, I am sorry for the jerks but we are over the Bay of Bengal and the weather isn’t that great. There is a thick blanket of clouds and high possibility of thunder showers a little ahead in the path.”, he sighed heavily. “The visibility is terribly poor.” he informed his passengers after a long pause and rather reluctantly.
“However, my crew and I are here for every assistance.” he said reassuringly and further added, “I only request you not to unfasten your seat belt in any circumstance or panic. Just keep your cool.”
In his heart he knew that the situation might demand more than that from all of them.
There was a slight improvement in the weather, the passengers relaxed as the aircraft was stabilizing. But the seat belt sign was still on. Yet harried passengers rushed for the washroom bedlamizng the aircraft.
Deepa’s mind was rushing back to Sameer. Every moment on the flight now seemed impassable. She couldn’t wait to be in his arms oblivious of the fact that Sameer was fighting his own battle.
His battle had now turned into one of life and death. His swimming skills were not coming to any help. Due to the cloudy weather, no fishermen had ventured out nor were there any tourists to spot him. Sameer was resigned to his own fate. Fatigue and panic both had set in. His movements had gotten weaker and slower and he had swallowed a lot of water. By some grain of luck though, he had managed to catch hold of his surf board again and clung to it that kept him floating and barely alive.
there in the troposphere the story was no better. As it turned out, the patch of blue sky was short lived. The flight was bumping again and it was getting worse. Some passengers were still in the aisle and rest rooms.
The steward gave strict instructions, “Passengers please return to your seats immediately and fasten your seat belts.”
Frenzied passengers rushed back and forth and in the commotion an elderly lady tripped in the aisle adding to the panic. She was sitting next to Deepa. Deepa tried relaxing her but her own nerves were now taut with fear.
“Friends, this is your captain again. As you can see the weather has turned completely against us but I request your co-operation to take you safely to our destination. It is still 45 minutes flying time before we can possibly touch the ground.” spoke a concerned but strong Cpt. Avinash.
The captain had barely finished speaking to the passengers when a massive thud shook the wits out of all. The aircraft somersaulted on one side. The display lights in the cockpit flickered and the power display went off. It was a bird hit.
A lone pelican was gliding across the clouds and got sucked into the aircraft’s engine. It broke one of the blades and consequently with the speed and friction the other blades smashed. Cpt. Avinash’s worst fear had come true. The heart of his aircraft had stopped beating and it was plummeting below uncontrollably. There was no time to assess the situation; in fact there was hardly any time to act.
Pandemonium took over the plane, shrieks of fear, howls of pain, what was happening was beyond the passengers’ comprehension.
In the midst of this turmoil, the Cpt. transmitted an SOS “Mayday, mayday, IC`817 …bird hit… emergency water landing.”
And he made a final announcement to the passengers, “Passengers, this is an emergency. We are still over the Bay of Bengal and need to do an emergency landing in the sea” his voice rapt with tension. “For the sake of God and yourself, do as the crew tells you to do. We are with you.” And he choked on his words, “May God be with us”.
The crews’ loud and commanding instructions jolted the passengers out of their shock. There was no time to panic; they needed to be out of the aircraft as soon as possible. The crew went up and down helping people to get on with their life jackets lying below the seats and reminding continually not to inflate it till they are out of the plane.
Deepa’s mind was going numb, why was it all happening to her. Sameer’s face kept flashing before her eyes; they were about to begin their life together. Tears were rolling down her cheeks but she knew there was no time for this. She took control of herself, wore her life jacket and realized that the elderly couple sitting next to her was still struggling. Helping them wear it, she tightened the belt at the waist and held their hands. By some miracle of God, there was not a single infant on this flight.
The speaker was off, the lights were shut, fear was high and emotions were loose. A crew member stood at each emergency exit while Captain Avinash maneuvered the aircraft to touch the sea with minimum damage and injury.
Just as the aircraft landed on the water, a brave and optimistic captain pleaded out loud, “Friends, whatever be our fate tonight, do not give up.” And he pressed for the final time, “Your strength is within and let every ounce of it be with you.”
With those last words the emergency exits were flung open. The female and elderly passengers slid first. The crew made sure that each of them clung to their floating seats tightly and pulled the air inflating knobs of the life jacket.
Deepa was at the exit now. Closing her moist eyes, she took a deep breath, clutched her seat, inflated the life jacket and told herself, “Love you Sameer.”
Once in the water, she was shivering vigorously. She was an amateur swimmer unlike Sameer. Swimming in a pool is different than holding on to your life in the middle of the ocean with winds and waves splashing across your face. Fortunately, the thunder showers had subsided. All the passengers tired to remain huddled together for security with their torch lights on and whistling continuously for help.
As the last passengers and the crew jumped out of the aircraft, they saw the Boeing IC 817 gradually disappear beneath the sea.
Stranded in those dark and eerie waters Deepa began sobbing again. There were others like her but hysteria was taking over her now. Screams of “Sameer, Sameer…” filled the dark sky. Between her sobs there were shouts, “Take me away from here…” her frail body couldn’t keep up for long and her usually composed self was no longer in equilibrium. Her eyes shut slowly while she kept muttering, “Sameer, please help me, please help me…”
Though the two lovers were struggling in the same sea between life and death, they were miles apart and unaware of each other’s condition and fate. Sameer was totally exhausted by now, and though the sea had calmed down he could no longer swim to any shore. In fact he was barely awake but his longing for Deepa was so strong that it wouldn’t let him pass out. He held on to his surf board and just drifted with the waves and the wind losing all sense of direction whatsoever.
On the other hand, Deepa was in a delirium which was jeopardizing her life. The fellow passengers nudged her, slapped her to stay awake and she responded. But the responses were weakening and fatigue was taking its toll over everybody. So far there hadn’t been any sign of search helicopters or boats. Gradually some passengers got scattered, floating over the waves and drifting away and Deepa was one of them.
Deepa’s life jacket wouldn’t let her body drown but the state of her body was God’s call now. She was in a stupor, though her eyes blinked and opened intermittently, there was no resistance from her body. Despite her condition, her whisperings to Sameer didn’t stop. She floated like a log towards an unknown destination.
After four hours of holding onto the shreds of their lives, the passengers felt a sense of rebirth on seeing the search boats of the Coast Guard arrive. The entire crew and all the passengers including the drifted ones were located except one.
Deepa wouldn’t respond to any call nor would she whistle seeing the boats and her torch light had long gone away. And it wouldn’t be till dawn that the helicopters would be able to find her. Only God knew if her body was still breathing or not.
The dreary night had finally given way to a bright sunny morning. As the first rays of sun flashed on his face, Sameer’s eyes flickered. With frowning lines on his forehead, he roused from his sleep and looked around. “Where am I?” he thought to himself blearily. He rubbed his eyes open and tried lifting his sagging body. His surroundings totally zapped him. He lay on a stretch of virgin white sand, with emerald green waters in front of him and lush tropical woods behind him.
“Hello, somebody there…?” he called out aloud. But only his echo returned. He limped his way on the sand and shouted again, “Anybody there?” There was no reply. His throat was parched and burning and mind was dazed. He slouched on the sand and tried recollecting the events of the night. His battered surf board was lying there too and suddenly he remembered how he had drifted with wind and landed on this island.
The Andaman and Nicobar Archipelago have a total of 394 islands of which only 38 are inhabited and this one looked like the 39th. There was no sign of human settlement as far as his eyes could see. The adventure wasn’t over yet.
“Oh My God!” he exclaimed in horror. “Deepa would have reached and killed herself over worrying about me.” He punched his fist in the sand disappointedly. “How could I be so irresponsible?” he chided himself. He was sure Deepa would have set off a search operation for him but there he was helpless and marooned on an island, clueless of his direction, location and time.
Slumped on the sand, Sameer sat woefully with his hands on his head. Suddenly he felt he heard some human voice. He looked around in vain. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him, he thought to himself. A little later he heard the same voice again.
“I cannot be so foolhardy” he muttered and started walking in the direction of the voice.
The voice grew more distinct as he walked ahead. He could now make out it was a female voice repeatedly calling out, “Somebody please help.”
His heart was pounding and beads of sweat covered his forehead. “Why does it sound like Deepa?” he kept wondering. His pace accelerated and he sprinted across the sand.
Running with all his strength, he saw a young female walking like a zombie in his direction. The two strangers glimpsed each other. A little closer their eyes met and the world froze. Neither of them moved nor blinked.
“Sameer” she whispered in disbelief.
“Deepa” his lips uttered in shock.
Flabbergasted, they took tiny steps towards each other not sure if it was a reality. Unexplainable tears were rolling down their eyes. They touched each other as if making sure it wasn’t a fantastic dream. The next moment, they were locked in each other’s arm, with tears of relief, pain and love all flowing uncontrollably.
Questions abundant in their eyes, but silence spoke. They only stared, took solace in the awareness that their world was still intact and one.