The mines of Bhatdih devoured their friends, but death spared them. For the fortunate four, what remains is not just a sense of relief but a pressing call of duty.
Not even out of hospital, a few of the survivors of the Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL)'s Nagda colliery have already decided to take care of the families of their dead colleagues.
Jailal Napit, the 58-year-old tallyman at the colliery, is recovering from the trauma at the BCCL's central hospital. And all he can think of is his friend Bideshi Mahto, a pump mechanic who perished in the fire. "He was the breadwinner of the family. He has two sons and a daughter, who has to be married soon. I have to look after them," Napit murmurs.
Napit was rushed to the Bhatdih regional hospital after a hot blast from the mine scalded him. Rameshwar Sharma, a 55-year-old haulage operator at Nagda, has more a family of a dozen to feed with a salary of Rs 15,000. Yet he has made up his mind to help the families of more than a couple his colleagues residing in the miners' colony.
"We used to go to work together for the evening shift every day about the same time around 7:30 pm. We shared our grudges and pleasures and stayed underground for eight hours together. I will miss them," Sharma said.
The other two survivors, both in their late 50s, Budhan Mahato and Nunulal Manjhi — the former a surface trainer and the latter an underground trainer — have been shocked into silence. "They are traumatised," says the attending nurse. They keep mumbling about the accident and seem to have lost all sense of time. But ask them about their colleagues and how they walked into the mouth of death, and recognition flickers in their eyes.
The families of the survivors are an angry lot. "Not a single management personnel from the Nagda unit nor anyone from the BCCL hierarchy has come to visit the injured. We won't allow our family members to resume work unless the BCCL management ensures a suitable ‘compensation for the injured’. Doctor says my father would be unable to work at least for a month. How will we survive in those days," asks Jailal Napit's son Ashok Kumar Thakur.