‘If I am alive, it is because he believed he could save me’

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A series on true experiences

TSUNAMI

Illustration: Samia Singh
Illustration: Samia Singh

IT’LL BE seven years this December.

It was Christmas time. As an NRI family living in Dubai, we used to wait for opportunities to head back to India. I was 13 and my brother, Salman, was 12.

My mother was originally a Catholic and my dad was a Muslim, so that meant double the number of churches and mosques to visit. So we spent Christmas visiting a holy Dargah at Nagore, Tamil Nadu, and the day after Christmas, visiting a church at Vailankanni.

While we were on the road to Vailankanni, a huge group of people were running from the opposite direction and screaming. My dad rolled down his window to ask what was happening. “The ocean is boiling,” came the reply. As the urgency of the moment eluded us, dad translated the curious Tamil phrase: “The ocean is seething.”

None of us had heard of such a phenomenon and hence did not comprehend what was happening. There was no time for comprehension. Huge waves came out of nowhere and before we could react, the car started filling up with water. My dad and the driver uncle, who were sitting in the front, were the first to climb on to the top of the car.

The water level kept rising. Salman, my mother and I were stuck in the rear seat. We couldn’t find the knob to pull the windows down and had to come out through the front doors. My mom and brother got out, but I got stuck inside. Hanging from the top of the car, Salman tried to open my door from the outside, while my father was busy helping people who were jumping on to our car. The water was flowing against the direction of the car and was lashing against his body with force. I was scared that the water would take him away.

Finally, the door clicked open. But I had to stretch from the inside of the car onto the top of it, which seemed like an impossible task. The distance was too much. I kept slipping on the seats. I managed to put my upper-half out of the car, with my brother holding me by one hand, while with the other hand, I was trying to stop the door from hitting me. The pain it was inflicting was unbearable.

In those few seconds, I felt that was it. The salty water was slowly filling my lungs, my hand was slipping and I felt weak. I thought I wouldn’t live. But at the same time, the sight of dead bodies floating around scared me. I started crying. I told Salman that I’d miss all of them.

I asked him to let go of me. But he wouldn’t. He kept pulling. I closed my eyes and prayed.

I felt his hands slipping. I didn’t want to open my eyes. It sounds stupid now, but for those few seconds, I thought about the people dear to me and how I’d never get to see them.

I don’t believe anyone is ready for death, ever. I guess it’s just human instinct to live. I wanted to be on top of the car and live, but on the other hand, the pain was so much that I thought letting go would be easier. The next few seconds were a blur. Silence descended on me. The pain seemed to subside and it felt comforting to just let go. I felt a strong tug and Salman pulled me on to the roof.

It took me a few seconds to realise that I was safe and on the roof. I kept crying and hugged him.

If I’m alive today it is because at that moment, he believed he could save me. Even though he thought his hands may give up, his heart didn’t.

They say time heals. But I’ve stopped swimming ever since. I used to love swimming. But now, deep water scares me and especially the waves. My brother is currently in his second year of mechanical engineering. We still don’t talk much about it. It scares the living daylights out of me, whenever we do. It just brings tears, knowing that we survived and are back home. Safe.

Samiha Shaikh is 20. She is a student of mass communication and lives in Dubai.

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