‘It’s so cold here’ said Sakshi while the others snuggled in their woolens and blankets near the bonfire. They had set up there camping tents and had all surrounded the warm fire lit up in the centre. It was a camping site near the Siddhipura Wildlife Sanctuary; surrounded by lush greenery on all sides and some of the most panoramic waterfalls ever. They had set up their tents just next to a small stream which was fed by one of the waterfalls. Infact they could even listen to the water hitting the rocks below the falls; it was like the roaring of a lion; loud but majestic.
The rainy season hadn’t yet begun so Sakhsi along with her group of ten friends had set out for this trip just to rejuvenate themselves before the grilling year of studies and placements ahead. They were all engineering students all about to begin their final year before venturing out in the real world.
There were occasional stories of wild animal sightings from the area around but the camping company which had arranged for their equipments had guaranteed a hassle and danger free outing. The night grew deeper; the cold intensified but their spirits didn’t deter. They sang and cracked jokes; played games until dawn. They were enjoying the time away from the city in the realms of nature. It was like an extended picnic; which was going to last for three long days.
Tired after the karaoke session of the night; it wasn’t before noon that they woke up. The day was sunny with no signs of rain and it looked perfect for a dip in the stream nearby. Now the stream was fed by a waterfall and in turn it met another waterfall downstream. The water level was perfect just upto their ankles so it wouldn’t be unsafe for the non swimmers in their group to join the revelry too.
It was almost an hour that they had been playing in the water when suddenly a few of them felt the water level rise. Nonetheless they continued with their games but eventually all of them felt the water level rising fast; it was now upto waist level. Before they could react and reach the banks; the current in the water too increased manifolds. However most of them managed to somehow quickly get to the banks except three - Sakshi, Tripti and Ashok who were stuck in the middle; it all happened so fast that they didn’t know what to do.
They held on to each other; but it was getting harder by the minute to keep standing. The girls panicked and were scared as it seemed near impossible to reach to the bank. Ashok noticed some big rocks; on one side of the stream. He told the girls to follow him to that. Though they somehow managed to reach near those all the while fighting the current; the difficult task now was trying to climb and manage to hold on to those till someone came for their rescue. The force with which water was now flowing made climbing on the rocks all the more difficult. Ashok managed to somehow grab on to the rock with one hand, while with the other he tried to pull Tripti. She however was too scared almost lost the grip of Ashok. If she would fall along with her Sakshi would also be carried away downstream. But by some stroke of luck Ashok still managed to hold on to her. She then slowly moved towards the rock and Ashok helped her to get on top of it. In the mean time the water level had raised alarmingly above the safety levels; the ones on the bank couldn’t believe their eyes; they too had to recede back for the water could anytime overflow the barriers.
Ashok was holding on to his life and Sakshi’s by one hand; he had to get on the rock immediately but Sakshi’s leg slipped and she lost grip with Ashok. It was a nightmare. They were staring at death; and now Sakshi was being swept away by the full force of the water and Ashok couldn’t do anything. Tripti was horrified at the sight and so were the others on the embankment. There was nothing Ashok could do to save Sakhsi so he climbed the rock and held on to that tightly along with Tripti.
Sakshi tried but the water was too powerful. She could see the waterfall approaching. She knew it was going to be her end. She was under water for a moment and the next above it. Her hands and legs were becoming numb; her heart sank even before she did. She was going faster than anything towards her doom. For the rest; it was awful seeing their friend who just a while ago was enjoying with them be pulled to her death. A few fainted at the sight; some of the boys who had gone to get ropes were now there to see the gory sight. They couldn’t do anything; it just wasn’t in their control.
Just then Sakhsi noticed another rock just before the deep steep fall to the bottom; it was her only chance. If she could hold on to that perhaps she could live to tell about this incident. Her whole body had already given away; but still just for a moment she was filled with this desire to live. That gave her the strength and she reached out with her arm to hold on to the saving grace while passing through. The water was furious showing no mercy; as Sakhsi crossed the rock she held on to it with one hand; her legs dangled over the free fall and the water tossed her over the other end due to which thankfully she was able to grip the rock with her other hand too. Her friends at the bank who had now started pulling Ashok and Tripti with the rope leapt with joy. But the battle was not over; the danger hadn’t passed.
The water was hitting against Sakshi’s face; it was cold and hit her like a weapon made of ice. She held on to the rock for her life; waiting for someone to come save her. By then a few of her friends had ventured towards the verge of the stream near the deep fall. Sakshi was being tossed by the water; it was like somebody was hitting her on a solid surface. It was painful; she didn’t know how long she would be able to hold on to the rock.
Ashok and Tripti were now safely on the side. Help was on its way but that would be too late for Sakshi. If they had to do something; it had to be then. But what should they do? Would Sakhsi manage to hold the rope; even if she did how they would pull her up? The moment Sakhsi would leave the rock even to hold the rope she would be thrown miles below and it was too dangerous for anyone to venture into the wild stream with rope tied to him. He would be washed down in no time.
These moments were critical; something had to be done. Sakshi prayed hard whilst being battered by the water. Just then the professional help arrived; they had come with a helicopter. That was good Sakshi would now be saved. A trained rescuer from the helicopter threw the ladder towards Sakhsi; she just had to hold on to it and she would be airlifted to safety.
So the moment of truth arrived; the end of the ladder reached Sakshi. It was the instant when Sakshi would leave the grip with one hand of the rock and attempt to grab the ladder. Everyone looked on with eager anticipation.
Sakhsi lifted her left hand and grabbed the rope with it. But no sooner that she did that; the water flung her away from the rock. She now held on precariously with her left hand to the ladder. She tried to bring her right hand up to the ladder but she couldn’t; it was too painful. She just wasn’t able to pull her hand up. Her left shoulder was also battered and bruised; she wouldn’t be able to hold on for long. As she hung dangerously; the helicopter crew flew up and started to move towards the safe landing place. It was taking more time than usual for the helicopter to reach to a safe landing place due to the terrain; the helicopter had to maneuver cleverly lest risk hitting the rocks or trees around. The rescuer kept calling out to Sakhsi to hold on; he looked at her eyes they were tired. But what struck him was how quiet and placid they looked. Sakshi stared at her rescuer; she was growing weaker by the second. Just a few moments and they would reach the bank everyone thought. Sakhsi would be safe just a few more moments.
Just a feet distance remained between Sakshi and the bank; infact everybody on the bank even begun clapping. There were cheers all around. Her friends cried and hugged each other out of happiness. But for some reason the rescuer felt uneasy looking at Sakshi. Her cold stare somehow got to him. He just prayed for her ordeal to end and looked at Sakshi. There were tears in her eyes, she seemed to be saying sorry to him and suddenly her grip to the ladder was lost and she fell again into the furious stream. He saw Sakshi disappear in the water below. Some of the onlookers shouted in horror; her friends who were just a while ago hugging each other out of joy; turned and to their dismay heard a loud thud on the water. Sakshi was lost forever!
Infront of the eyes of the rescuer and all her friends standing on the banks she fell to her death. In the blink of an eye she vanished; all bystanders were aghast and stupefied at the appalling sight. Just a while back they were overjoyed at the prospect of Sakshi being saved from the arms of death but now there was no sign of her. They wouldn’t ever forget that sight in their lifetime. The rescuer too watched in helplessness as she fell; inspite of being well within reach of life Sakshi was snatched by death. It is thus aptly said everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control.
Labels: Short Fiction