“Who, Out of The Two, Should We Try to Save?”
Can this question ever leave her mind, thought Sunaina. No one would ever wish any mother, having to face such a question!
“Time is running out! We may not have enough time to try and save both the children! Who do you want us to try to save, first?” Came the menacing voice from under the huge mound of rubble all around. Ten-year-old Khushi and twelve-year-old Raja, the siblings, were stuck deep under the debris - the bricks, stones, cement and all that had fallen down. They could not even see each other. They were crushed so badly that they couldn’t even feel the pain. They were numb! Then they heard the voice of a stranger,
“There is time only to save one of the two! Who do you want us to try to save?”
The question was directed to their mother Sita. How can any mother answer this, Khushi was thinking, least of all theirs! What a happy family Khushi had! Doting parents, Sita and Raghu, herself, and her older brother Raja. Raghu was a truck driver and Sita looked after the house. She did some stitching too, to add to the family’s monthly income. They lived in a small village named Bihubana about two hundred kilometres from the industrial city, Rourkela.
Sita was brilliant in academics, whereas Raja always struggled with his studies. Much as he tried to, he simply failed to retain whatever he learnt. On the other hand, he was very smart with machines; any machine that stopped working would splutter back to life after Raja worked on it. Every time Raghu checked on the engine of his truck Raja would be by his side, watching with full interest and curiosity. Raghu was amazed at his repairing skills.
Sita and Raghu loved both their children with all their heart and always treated them equally. There was no differentiating between the two, on the basis of their gender. Both Khushi and Raja were the apple of their eyes. Khushi and Raja too were happy and loving children.
One evening, like many days, all four of them sat together playing a game of Snakes and Ladders. They played games most of the evenings after dinner. Raghu played the dice and his token fell into the mouth of the biggest snake, and it was dragged back to the lowest line! He screamed in despair while the other three squealed in excitement when their screams and squeals were drowned in a horrible sound that filled the whole surrounding!
The earth shook and everything started shaking, falling and breaking. It was an earthquake, one with a magnitude of around eight on the Richter scale! Before anyone could understand what was happening, there was rumbling and tumbling and there was a humongous heap of broken houses, buildings and everything, all around. Trees had been uprooted and added to the mound. Cries, screams and howlings filled the air and in no time one could hear the sirens of ambulances and fire engines.
“Save my son!” came the wailing answer from Sita. Khushi heard it and she quickly heaved a sigh of relief! She knew her mother loved both her and her brother equally; but she also knew that between the two of them, her brother was the one who needed to be protected more. Khushi was actually praying in her heart that her mother should ask for her son to be saved. Khushi heard her mother’s wailing and then the world turned completely black. She knew nothing.
Khushi opened her eyes to find herself in a hospital in Rourkela. Both her legs were fractured and were now in plaster. She had been unconscious for almost three days. She was told by the nurses later that she had been brought to the hospital by a doctor couple. Soon she saw a sweet-faced woman come to her.
“I am Sunaina. How are you feeling, child? My husband and I had brought you here,” said she as she stroked her head gently. She continued, “We are both doctors and had gone to the civil hospital near Bihubana where all the earthquake victims had been brought. There we found you lying in a corner, in a state of unconsciousness. Something in your face touched my heart and we brought you here with us. Don’t worry, as soon as you recover, we will go to your village to check on your family.”
Khushi softly put her little hand on Sunaina’s. Sunaina looked into her eyes and bent down to kiss her forehead. How much pain did those big beautiful eyes hold, she wondered, as she turned away to carry on with her duty. God and His inexplicable ways, she thought!
After about a month, Khushi could walk with a stick. She would need much more time to recover completely, but she couldn’t wait any longer to go find her family. So Sunaina and her husband Riyaz set off with Khushi to go to Bihubana, Khushi’s village.
It was a few hours of drive. Khushi’s heart was racing with time. She did not know what to expect! She prayed that she should find her family exactly as she knew it to be! But was she sure? Not really! The horrifying experience of deafening sound, screams, cries, the heap of rubble, she was reliving the whole scene for the nth time now. Faces of her parents, her brother, visuals of the past, were all rushing past her eyes. Raja’s hand holding hers, while they both walked back from school, brought tears to her eyes. She smiled at the memory of her brother’s hands; Both his hands had two thumbs! Raghu would say that these extra thumbs brought magic to Raja’s hands, whenever he touched any machine!
The car had stopped and Khushi was jerked to the present. The car had stopped in front of the big mango tree that would be laden with mangoes in the summer. Khushi and Raja would spend most of their afternoons nestled on the branches, listening to the sweet singing of the koels, biting into the juicy mangoes, and enjoying their lazy time.
Khushi slowly got down from the car and started walking towards the village, around the corner. She stopped. Where was her village? All that she could see was broken and dilapidated houses! Not a human was to be seen! She froze! Sunaina softly held her and gently guided her to the tiny bench near the roadside. There was a tiny hut with a lone man sitting out with some green and yellow mangoes on a piece of red cloth on the ground.
Riyaz went near the man. The man, with a blank face and stare, looked at him.
“Where are the people of Bihubana?”
The man kept staring at Riyaz, then shook his head. A boy came out of the hut and answered,
“There was a terrible earthquake and the whole village collapsed. Everyone died.”
Khushi kept sitting there. Suddenly she stirred. She looked down. A puppy was licking her leg. It was Toto; Raja’s and Khushi’s puppy. It was a stray dog that they had found on their way home one day and had brought him home. From then on the puppy lived with them. Khushi bent down and, picking Toto onto her lap, she broke down in tears. She was inconsolable. Riyaz and Sunaina sat on either side and cried with her too.
Sunaina and Riyaz applied for adoption and in due time Khushi became their adopted child. Riyaz had to shift to New Jersey for his research work and Sunaina and Khushi too moved with him.
Khushi was a very loving child. With all the love showered upon her by her adopted parents, she too accepted them wholeheartedly. She was a brilliant student and moved on in life. She had just started her college of medicine when one day a news item on the TV caught her attention.
“An Indian boy had invented an amazing toolkit for trucks! The toolkit had everything possibly needed for an emergency break down! The inventor, a boy from a small village in Odisha, India, was outstanding in the fields of machines though he was a college dropout!”
Khushi was all ears. Her heart suddenly started beating faster. They were showing the picture of the inventor. A young boy, with a cheerful face, holding a trophy, filled the television screen. Khushi’s eyes got glued to the hands holding the trophy; Each one of them had two thumbs! He stood there smiling, with his mother, who he said was the guiding force in his life. Khushi gave out a scream!
Her mother and brother were alive. Was her father there too?
She would find that out soon, she told herself, as she looked down from the aircraft that was flying to India.