Monday, July 17, 2006

“My life has been shattered”

Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Student counsellor Meeta Shah struggles to cope with the brutal death of her husband

Shevlin Sebastian

In the drawing room of the sixth floor flat of Meeta Shah, 44, at Dahisar, there are quite a few people, mostly women. Meeta is sitting on a dhurrie, beside a low windowsill, which has a garlanded portrait of her late husband Tushit, 44. Mita’s body is stiff with sorrow and her eyes have become red from too much crying. She sees me at the door and beckons with her hand. But in front of so many women, I prefer to stay where I am. Then one by one, they hug her, these colleagues of hers from the Oxford Public School at Charkop, where Meeta works as a student counsellor and they leave. “Be strong,” says one, in an orange saree.

It is a small drawing room, with a sofa at one side and a bookcase on the other, on which are placed a television set and a music system, while a guitar, encased in a cloth cover, is propped up against one corner. On the walls, there are three oil paintings of Lord Krishna, done in a deep hue of blue. She would tell me later that painting is a hobby. Besides Meeta, there is her brother, Hasit, her father and mother, two brother in laws with family, childhood friend Mayur Desai, and daughter, Esha, 16, wearing square black spectacles, and a white T-shirt with ‘Germany’ written across it.

I ask Meeta about how she heard the news and she says, “I was at a friend’s place when he mentioned the television was announcing bomb blasts on the local trains. I rushed home because that was the exact time when Tushit was usually on a train.” She tried several times to call his mobile, but could not get through. “I told my daughter Esha, ‘Keep on trying, keep on trying,’ she says. “All the lines were jammed. No calls were going through.”

In the end, it was a girl who was travelling in the compartment next to the first class compartment, which blew up at Jogeshwari, who got through to an uncle who called up Hasit. She had found the wallet and mobile phone. “I assume it must have fallen from his pocket,” says Meeta. “She told the uncle, Tushit was being sent to one of the hospitals but she could not say which one because she was not allowed to get into the ambulance.”

So Meeta and Esha, along with a neighbour and his wife, rushed to Goregaon, where they checked the municipal hospital there. But the hospital authorities directed them to go to Cooper Hospital in Vile Parle. From South Mumbai, Hasit and his parents, an uncle and a cousin had also set out for Coopers while Mayur set out from Dahisar.

When they reached Cooper’s, it was a complete chaos. “It seemed like a slaughter house,” says Meeta. “The bodies were all piled up, one on top of the other. We had to trample over different bodies to check.”

Says Hasit: “The hospital manpower and the management were grossly inadequate. The hygienic conditions were the worst that one could see. These government hospitals are a disaster.”

Finally, the authorities stationed the bodies in a streamlined manner and Tushit’s body was discovered by Mayur. After that, there was the hassle of getting the permission to take it away. “Initially, there was talk that all bodies would be released only after a post mortem,” says Hasit. “Naturally, this did not go down well with the people. Then a new order came which stated that the post mortem would be done on those bodies which had not been identified.”

There were more hassles: The police and the railway police had panchnamas to be filled. There were three copies to each but since there was a shortage of carbon paper and no photocopying machine, each copy had to be filled in individually or photocopied later. “There was a long queue,” says Meeta. But, thankfully, several JVPD volunteers were around to provide coffee, water, bananas and biscuits; people in the neighbourhood rushed to get forms photocopied. In the end, the Shahs were able to take Tushit’s body out at 3.30 am.

Meeta is shaking with sobs now. Mother and daughter cling to each other. Esha does not cry: tears just flow down her face silently. It is too painful to see. I look outside. There are plants placed on pots just outside the window on an iron grille. I can hear the chirping of sparrows. At a distance, there is a wide expanse of mangroves. When she recovers, I ask her of the last time she saw her husband alive.

“I saw him last when he left for his Worli office at 7.15 a.m.,” says Meeta. (Tushit worked as an equity dealer with Brics Securities Limited). “We had tea, he had toast and butter and he was very happy.” Esha, who had finished her Class Ten exams, had just got her admission confirmed in nearby Patkar College with great difficulty. “I had to formally get Esha’s admission that day,” continues Meeta. “So he told me, ‘Go fast and get everything done, we will go out for a celebratory dinner.’”

Tushit was wearing black trousers and a white shirt with thin, red lines. “It gives a tinge of pink from a distance,” says Meeta. “I had selected it and it was one of my favourite shirts. My husband loved light colours.”

When I ask her whether he had any hobby, she says, “He always wanted to learn to play the guitar, because when he was younger, he could not afford to buy one.” Wife and daughter presented him with a guitar on his birthday, three years ago.

How was your marriage, I ask. “Tushit means heaven in Sanskrit, what else can I say,” she says. “I had a most beautiful marriage. On December 11, we would have completed 20 years. He said that on our 25th wedding anniversary, our daughter would be celebrating her 21st birthday and we should have a big party.” Meeta bursts into tears but recovers quickly and says, “Tushit had a lot of dreams for us.”

He had wanted to take a loan and buy a larger flat, so that Esha would have a room of her own. He also wanted to buy some property in his hometown of Baroda. And he had dreams for Esha. His daughter had secured 88% and a family friend, Vivek Mahajan, a professor of physics at National College had suggested that Esha should try to get admission for IIT. “Aim for the sky,” the professor had said, and Tushit had seconded it.

Asked about her husband’s qualities, she says, “He was very quiet, loving, affectionate and caring. He would never get scared, no matter how hard the challenge. He would say, ‘Difficult days will come but we should never run away.’ He went out of his way to help people. My husband taught me to be strong. Now I will see how much he has taught me.”

The silence hangs heavy in the room as I say my goodbye. Downstairs, when I step out of the elevator, I see that the Shah’s post box has a few letters in it but it has not been collected. At the housing society office, I meet retired administrator G.M. Mehta, who used to work in Mafatlal. He tells me Tushit was the secretary of the society. “He was a gentleman, who co-operated with everybody,” he says. At the gate, Brij Mohan, the guard who works for the Shivam Secuity Services, says simply, “He was a very nice man.” I spot Mayur, who is rushing back to his TV repairing shop, and I ask him to describe the body when he saw it first. It is too heart-rending to put it in words.

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