Smile is back on little Sooraj, like the shine of the sun — the meaning of his name. The Kerala sky may still be overcast with rains continuing to batter the state, but the shine on the toddler’s face finds reflection on his parents Vijayraj and Manju.
Only hours ago, the three-year-old boy was in the hands of a cadet of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). That was just after he was rescued from the monstrous gush of water that looked eager to swallow him. The story of the miraculous escape has been a big hit, thanks to the media, but Sooraj is least mindful of his mini-celebrity status. A relieved Vijayraj rewinds the tense episode.
“We had heard that the fifth shutter of the Cheruthoni dam (below the vast Idukki reservoir) was about to be lifted. There was a ban on the use of the local bridge; so I chose not to go to work,” says Vijayraj, a construction-work overseer. What’s more, Manju and Sooraj had fever; so he chose to take a stroll alone.
Vijayraj was keen to see the opening of the sluice gates, but that didn’t happen till noon. He returned home, only to find that the child was wheezing and suffering from severe breath problems.
He lifted the kid and ran out to the nearest dispensary.
That meant Vijayraj had to cross the Cheruthoni bridge. The security officials didn’t initially give him permission to cross it, but relented a bit after seeing the pathetic situation of the boy. They suggested getting in touch with the district collector, but Vijayaraj said such circuitous route can only be risky. He ran along the bridge, giving loud signals to the security personnel on the other end of the way.
The men, who had by then been informed from the other end, rushed to his aid. By then, Vijayraj had reached a reach where the current was strong. “All I remember is two men in uniform snatching the boy from my arms. I somehow wriggled myself out of the deluge and ran after the security official,” he says.
On mercifully reaching the other side of the river, Vijayraj noticed that he had no money with him. An empathetic policeman handed him a Rs 100 note. With that, he took a three-wheeler and sped to the government hospital in Painavu.
“It was only then I looked back,” says Vijayraj. “God! The fifth shutter of the dam had actually been just opened! It was amid its furious rush of water that I had dared to run, holding my kid...”
That was last week.
Today, Sooraj has recovered from his illness, and the focus of the rescue story has shifted to its deserving heroes: Kanhaiya Kumar and Kripal Singh. These are the names of the two NDRF men who saved the boy.
Vijayraj gets emotional as he lists out the people who selflessly helped him in a needy situation: Kanhaiya, Kripal, an unknown cop who gave him timely financial support and an auto-rickshaw driver who didn’t charge him a fare.
Kanhaiya and Kripal are constables with the fourth battalion (Arakonam, Tamil Nadu) of the NDRF. Both have been in service for six years.
Kanhaiya, who hails from Lakhisarai district of Bihar, and Kripal, who is from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, say Sooraj’s rescue gave them a satisfaction - one which no other profession would fetch them. They are happy that the people of Kerala are proud of them.