The Sea of Humanity
Noori was coming to Mumbai from Hissar, in Haryana, to see a doctor for her vocal chords. At the age of twenty, she suddenly started having problems with her voice box. Her voice became husky and, many a time, sound would not come out of her throat. Her parents took her to many doctors, but she didn’t quite respond to any treatment. Within a year, to everybody’s shock, she lost her voice completely.
Noori’s maternal uncle, Faiz, stayed in Mumbai. He suggested that they see a doctor in Mumbai, who was quite renowned for his work in this field. Faiz managed to convince Noori’s parents to get Noori to this doctor. So Noori with her parents had set off for Mumbai.They had halted in Delhi to meet an uncle and then they were on their way to Mumbai, by the Rajdhani Express. As luck would have it, Mumbai was under the spell of torrential rains. Mumbai, the island city, was completely flooded. Land could barely be seen. The Arabian Sea seemed to have just taken over the complete island. The railway tracks were flooded, causing the trains to stop, wherever. All the inbound, long distance trains had been halted, indefinitely. There was no electricity and no water to drink. Understandably, panic was brewing among the passengers and nobody knew what was in store for them. The rains kept pouring, incessantly.
Noori had never before seen so much of water, all around! She was glued to the window, watching the world outside. Fear was writ large on the faces of everyone that she could see. People were wading through water to any direction that they could. Noori got up from her seat and moved towards the door. People were already standing there, but she made her way and went and stood at the door. The water was lashing in and she got drenched. Somehow she was liking it. Suddenly her eyes fell on a man almost waist deep in water, with a small child, about three years old, sitting on his shoulders and holding the man tightly around his head. The man seemed to have got down from the train, in order to get to the platform. A woman, probably the child’s mother, was holding on to the man with the help of some cloth tied to his waist. The water current was very strong and Noori could make out how difficult it was, for the three of them, to keep their balance. Suddenly there was a very strong gush and the couple screamed, when, losing control, they were washed away with that tide. The little child was howling in fear and was stretching out his hand for help. They passed by their train, close to where Noori was standing, and, instinctively, Noori held the outstretched hand of the child and pulled him up to her. At the same time, to her horror, the couple disappeared, drowning in that torrent of water.
Noori was in a shock. She was looking at the screaming child in her arms and was trying to search for some sign of his parents, who were nowhere to be seen. Water was overflowing in great speed and Noori stood at the door of the train compartment for a long time, totally drenched, and numb. People around her also did not know what to do. A dazed Noori stepped back and reached her seat, to her parents, with the child in her arms. Her mother took the child and tried to comfort him. She gave him a few biscuits to eat. The child was hungry. He ate them but as soon as was reminded of the reality of being separated from his parents, he started wailing again. This went on for quite some time after which, exhausted, the child fell asleep.
The train was stranded there for more than twenty-four hours, after which a rescue team came with boats and ferried the passengers to land. The railway station was crowded and was in a complete mess with water all around, and people sitting or standing wherever they got any place.The passengers from the train too got piled up on the platform. Outside the station too, the city was flooded. No wonder there was no sign of Faiz, who was supposed to come and receive them at the station. Noori, along with her parents and the little boy in her arms, followed others up a staircase and reached the first floor that had many rooms. People found places wherever they could. There was no way they would be able to step out of the station, anytime soon.
Noori, along with the little boy, went and sat at the window sill. She could get a look of the city from there and what she saw, completely stunned her. It was a sight that would remain etched on her mind, for ever. She saw water everywhere and in that sea of water the cars and the buses looked like toys. The cars had no one inside, whereas the buses were full of people who did not know how to get out of it, on that flooded road. She saw many people hanging from the windows of the buses, throwing in packets of biscuits, water bottles, bananas, etc., for the stranded passengers to eat and drink! She couldn’t believe her eyes as saw many residents of the houses in the buildings along the road come out in the rain, and hand over packets of food to people. She saw a rope tied horizontally from far behind, tied to some pole maybe, and people were trying to ferry the stranded ones by helping them move ahead, holding the rope. So many people, out there in the open, without caring much about their own safety and security, were helping strangers. The sea of humanity simply overflowed all around. Noori felt overwhelmed, and hugged the little boy tightly to herself.
It took more than forty-eight hours for the rains to stop. The water slowly started receding all around.The aftermath of the floods was visible everywhere. People now managed to reach their homes. The phones started working and communication was resumed. Faiz came and took his sister and her family home. The little boy went with them too. None of them had the heart to leave him with the police. They knew the child had lost his parents forever, and it would not be realistic to expect at this moment the required sensitivity from the already overworked police, in dealing with this boy. So the little boy, by default, became an addition to their family. He said his name was Munna, and that he had his parents and grandparents at home.
The doctor examined Noori but found no anomaly in her vocal chords or in her sound box. The doctor enquired if she had undergone any recent trauma; the parents negated this too. The doctor prescribed some vitamin supplements and advised Noori to do everything that made her happy, and asked her to visit him again after six months. So there was no reason for Noori to stay further in Mumbai; she along with her family, and Munna, returned to her home town.
Back home, Noori got completely involved in taking care of Munna. Munna too would not leave Noori for a minute. They would play the whole day and Noori was now much busier and happier. Noori was very good in making sketches. She resumed her drawing after many years. Munna too would sit with her, with a paper and colours, and would keep drawing. Soon Noori discovered that Munna, for his age, was exceptional in drawing. He drew amazing landscapes and coloured them beautifully. Both Noori and Munna immersed themselves completely, into the art of drawing.
One day, while sitting down to draw, Noori remembered the faces of Munna’s parents, from that fateful evening. Her hand started moving automatically and soon she had drawn the sketches of the couple, who got washed away in that flood, right in front of Noori. The same scene was depicted on paper. The couple with their child on his father’s shoulder, braving the floods. Munna saw the sketch and started calling out for his parents. An idea flashed into Noori’s mind. She ran to her father and asked him if they could get this sketch printed in various newspapers of the country. May be Munna’s grandparents or somebody else in the family would see it, and come asking for Munna. Munna could then be reunited with his family.
The sketch drawn by Noori was printed in various newspapers in the country. No further details were shared, for fear of it being misused. The sketch only had the artist’s name and telephone number below it. The sketch received wide appreciation from all over. There were many calls to know more about the artist. But Noori was waiting for something else. Days passed, and Noori’s dream was yet to be fulfilled. Noori kept on praying for someone from Munna’s family to see the pictures, and approach her, to take him back to the family. But that did not seem to happen!
A year had passed from that fateful day of floods in Mumbai. Munna was well settled with Noori and her family. Noori, though, still hoped that one day she would be able to give Munna back to his own family. She was doing very well in her drawing. One morning she was going through the newspaper, like she did every day. She turned to page number three and then there was a muffled scream. Noori’s mother, in the next room, rushed out to see an ashen-faced Noori, shivering, with the newspaper in her hand. Muffled sobs were coming out from her throat. Her mother rushed to her and hugged her tight.
“ Noori, Noori! My child! What happened? Why are you crying?”
Noori fainted in her arms. She was rushed to the hospital. The doctors tended to her and when she regained consciousness, she looked around. There was deep fear in her eyes and as she saw her parents, she broke down again. After she calmed down, she started speaking. Her parents couldn’t believe their ears. On asking her the reason for her sudden breakdown, she started narrating the whole story.
“Mamma, you remember Yogesh Bhaiya? Papa’s friend’s son who had come to stay with us for two months, to sit for an exam? Well, one night, when I passed his room while going to the kitchen to fetch water, I happened to see his computer screen by chance and I was shocked! He immediately turned the monitor away, but I had already seen. Two people on the screen were working on what looked like a bomb-like thing. Yogesh Bhaiya also had things strewn across his table, in front of the computer. As he saw the shock on my face, he got up and came to me menacingly and said,
“ Noori, you simply forget what you saw just now. If ever you utter a word of this, you will find your parents dead. And I do mean every word that I speak. Off you go girl, and mind your own business. Just remember that you hold the lives of your parents in your hands. This is not an empty threat. I have already killed three people, and killing two more would not be any problem.” Noori continued,
“His cold eyes sent a shiver down my spine and I could never forget the evil that I saw in them. Without my realising, I lost my power of speech. Today, while going through the papers, I saw Yogesh Bhaiya’s face glaring at me. He had been sentenced to death, by the Supreme Court.”
Noori’s parents hugged their daughter and thanked God for the close shave that they had had with that criminal. The doctor in Mumbai, on hearing the development, was delighted and wanted to see Noori. So Noori, with her parents and Munna, came again to Mumbai. The doctor examined her and said that, no wonder, he had found nothing wrong last time. It was the fear and trauma that had resulted in the loss of her speech. He wished them luck and good health for the future.
Noori wanted to see Mumbai. The last time had been terrible, while this time the weather was just perfect. So they all set out to have a look at the island city that they had heard about so much. Noori had made a list. The Gateway of India, the Marine Drive, the Hanging Gardens, and a few more places. But it was not possible to cover all of these in one day. So they chose to go to the Marine Drive.
“This is so beautiful! I can spend hours sitting here,” gushed Noori, as she and Munna went and sat at almost the edge of the sea. Noori’s father’s phone rang. He took the call.
“ Yes, right. This is Noori’s number. Yes Noori, the artist! But may I ask who you are, and why have you called?”
“What? He was your elder brother? Where do you stay? Can you message me your address please? I will call you back.”
Noori’s father was all excited. He blurted out,
“Someone claims to be Munna’s uncle. He says Munna’s father was his older brother. He has seen the sketch printed on the newspaper just now. It was in the form of a wrapper and it fortunately caught his eye. He immediately called on the given number.”
The man had messaged his address. What a coincidence! The address was in Mumbai. Next day, they all reached the given address. Munna was with them. On reaching the house, Munna ran to the door and started banging on it. Someone opened the door and Munna fell into her arms. It was his grandmother! Seeing Munna mixing so lovingly with everyone there, there was no doubt that it was his own family. Noori was the happiest. She finally could unite Munna with his family.