Malaysian flight tragedy: Stoicism, tears as parents await some closure
On the morning of March 8, Saturday, Malay Mukherjee abruptly woke up alone in the darkness of his London home. It was around 4 am. His mobile by the bedside had a message alert. It was a message that would change his life forever.Updated: Mar 20, 2014 00:27 IST
On the morning of March 8, Saturday, Malay Mukherjee abruptly woke up alone in the darkness of his London home. It was around 4 am. His mobile by the bedside had a message alert. It was a message that would change his life forever.
“I never wake up so early. But I woke up that day. Then, I saw it. It was from Muktesh’s office in Beijing -- Muktesh and his wife were on the Malaysian airlines flight that had gone missing,” Mukherjee said.
By the next day, his wife, Uma, who was in Chennai, joined him in Dubai where their younger son, Mohan is based. Then, it was a long, long flight to Beijing.
Twelve days later, we are sitting at the lobby of a Beijing hotel and Mukherjee seems to be handling the tragedy of his missing elder son and his Chinese wife, Xiaomo Bai – returning to Beijing from a holiday in Vietnam -- in as stoic a manner as possible. Only once during the long chat did his eyes moisten. A neatly folded handkerchief came in handy. He spoke quietly, only sparingly using words like frustration, despair and devastation.
His demeanor was that of a man holding back his tearing emotions to finish the job at hand – ensure the future well-being of his two grandchildren, aged eight and two.
“We have to focus on the children. The elder boy went back to school yesterday. He knows about the crash. He knows that his parents were on that flight. But he is hopeful. He told us to look after his younger brother who, he says, missing the parents more,” Mukherjee said.
For Uma, it is turning out to be a double blow. Her father, Mohan Kumaramangalam, minister of steel and mines in former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s cabinet, had died in an air crash in 1973.
“She is a strong woman. As a teacher, Uma’s entire focus is now on the children,” Mukherjee, who worked for Arcelor-Mittal for several years in countries like Mexico, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg and the UK, said.
Amid the sense of numbing loss and devastation for the two families -- Xiamo was the only child of her parents -- there are formalities that might seem mundane but which need to be urgently completed.
For one, as Mukherjee puts it, the situation is unique: Muktesh, originally from India, and his wife are Canadian citizens while their children are US citizens.
“We are from India, and my daughter-in-law’s family is Chinese. The children are American. It is a unique case,” Mukherjee said before excusing himself to dictate to someone on the phone how to format a letter of application to a government office. The embassies of India and Canada and Chinese authorities here have been helpful. But Mukherjee said he felt a sense of hurt in the way the Malaysian airlines treated them. “They offered to buy our tickets to Beijing. We told them, we already had tickets for Beijing. We were told that someone from the airlines office will receive us at the airport. No one turned up. Now, they just message my younger son, asking him watch the news at 5.30 in the evening. This is hurting to say the least.”
Mukherjee and his wife intend to be in Beijing for the next couple of months. “If there is some conclusion, we will head to wherever they find any wreckage of the aircraft,” he said.
That is possibly the only way for the Mukherjee family to come even close to anything like a closure to this tragedy.
First Published: Mar 19, 2014 18:42 IST