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I jumped holding hands of my cousins but lost them to the sea, recalls P305 tragedy survivor

Udaram Meghawal was visibly upset and infuriated when he started arguing with a guard at Sir JJ Hospital mortuary on Friday evening
By Manish K Pathak, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 22, 2021 11:53 PM IST

Udaram Meghawal was visibly upset and infuriated when he started arguing with a guard at Sir JJ Hospital mortuary on Friday evening. “Show me the mark of cut on the shoulder and the lost finger,” he insisted when the guard and a policeman asked him to check if a body of a matching height and built was that of his elder son, Amararam, 40.

The 65-year-old from a remote village in Pali district of Rajasthan was unable to cope with the news that he had lost both his sons — Amararam and Pappuram, 32 — in barge Papaa305 or P305 tragedy.

However, the guard informed him that such marks will not be visible, as the body was swollen due to drowning. Meghawal reluctantly took three rounds of the mortuary and examined the body again and again, but did not identify the body as that of his elder son.

“My world is devastated and I am feeling as if all my cognitive functions are dead,” said Meghawal. He said he was “afraid of facing his two daughters-in-law and their four children aged between three and 11 years”. What bothered him the most was this: “Now, who will provide for them, who will take care of them?”

He left the hospital mortuary late on Friday evening with the body of Pappuram and performed last rites on Saturday afternoon at his hometown. Now, one of his nephews will visit the mortuary on Sunday to ascertain if any of new the bodies at the mortuary is that of Amararam.

Both Amararam and Pappuram were working on P305 along with their cousin Mahendra Ranawat, 19. All three of them had jumped in the sea around 4pm on Monday (May 17) when water had entered the ill-fated accommodation barge and it was about to sink.

Ranawat was rescued by INS Kochi, 16 hours later at 8am on Tuesday, while Pappuram’s body was recovered during search and rescue operation and Amararam is still missing.

“Amararam and Pappuram were doing piping work on the barge when they took me on the ship as a helper, said Mahendra. The 19-year-old comes from a farming family and is one of the five siblings — two elder sisters and two younger brothers. After completing Class 12, he decided to work to help his father financially for his sister’s marriage. Pappuram brought him to Mumbai and after completing paperwork, they went on to the barge on November 4. His salary was being deposited in his father’s bank account to ensure maximum savings.

Ranawat said that on May 15 all of them were informed about the incoming cyclone. On Sunday evening, wind speed started increasing and the gusty sound gave an indication of what lied ahead. The crew members were, however, not mentally prepared for what happened next. All eight anchor cables of the barge gave way by Monday morning, leaving the barge at the mercy of the stormy weather. The barge drifted and hit a platform; soon water started entering the barge from the damaged side and the vessel began tilting, said Ranawat, adding that by 2pm on Monday water level reached the deck and crew members started jumping in the choppy sea.

Following suit, he and his two cousins jumped in the sea together so as to avoid drifting at 4pm, about an hour before the barge capsized. “However, as we jumped from the barge, water gushed in the wind pipe of Pappuram and he started gasping for breath,” said the 19-year-old. “We tried to help him stay above water level, but the high waves made it difficult and eventually Pappuram breathed his last around 6.30pm.”

Ranawat and Amararam, however, continued to hold hands. “Both of us were crying and pleading for help,” said Ranawat who, around three hours later, realised that Amararam’s movement stopped. As wind speed increased further and waves roared higher, he got separated from his cousins and drifted away.

Exhausted and famished due to the rough seas and lack of food since Sunday afternoon, he again saw Pappuram floating a few metres away from him. He tried to reach Pappuram, but couldn’t because of the high waves. Completely helpless and alone, the 19-year-old let the sea take him wherever it wished and floated with the help of the life-jacket.

Around 8am on Tuesday, May 18, the naval ships engaged in search and rescue operation noticed Ranawat and rescued him. He was one of the 125 survivors brought to Mumbai by INS Kochi on May 19.

“I had lost all my belongings. I remembered the mobile number of a cousin who lives in Pune. I called and informed him about the incident,” he said, with tears rolling down his eyes. The cousin then informed their family about the tragedy.

Meghawal said he came to Mumbai by train after hearing about the incident and reached the city on May 21. He directly went to the Sir JJ Hospital with one of his nephews, Kishor Ranawat, and shortly identified the body of his younger son, Pappuram.

“Nothing can be more burdensome and agonizing than the bereavement of one’s own children,” said Kishor, adding, “Now we have to bear the grief and sorrow of the death my brothers.”

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