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HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
Amritsar, August 17, 2013
On his 23rd birthday, the house of Atul Sharma is silent. On August 16, he would have celebrated with fellow sailors on board INS Sindhurakshak, while back home in Amritsar, his parents would have cut a cake on his behalf and have great merrymaking at the rented house in Tandon Nagar locality here. The family would never tire of calling him up and the mother, Sushma, would also visit the temple to pray for his long life.

Atul is now among the 18 members of the crew feared dead in the mystery explosions on the Indian naval submarine on August 14 when it was docked off Mumbai. The mother still believes Atul will be home alive, for the family has no official word about his death. "We'll wait and pray that a miracle happens," Hemraj Sharma, Atul's father, told the media at his house here on Friday.

Atul's younger brother and sister were first in the family to catch the news on television. "They told me something terrible had happened on board the submarine, and started crying," said Sharma. He reached Atul's contacts in the navy. "All they could tell me was that everyone on board had died," said Sharma. Still, he was advised to keep calm, as there were chances that Atul had alighted from the submarine and survived.

As schoolteacher Sharma prepared for the worst, his wife hung on to the last hope. "He could still be alive," she said feebly, as relatives consoled her. The sailor's siblings had tears down their cheeks. "He loved us and would never let anyone hurt us," said the sister.

Atul was keen to join the navy, as ships and the sea life fascinated him. Six years ago, his wish was fulfilled. Later, his dream of sailing in a submarine was also realised. In January, at the end of six-month course, he joined duty aboard INS Sindhurakshak. "His break was long due but he declined to take it until he had completed his course. We last saw him in February. He was happy at his achievement and describing to us the submarine, promising children he would take them on board someday," said the mother, as a relative by her side started talking about fate.