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A lonely mother in search of a son Thursday, February 22, 2001
AHMEDABAD: Amidst the traditionally clad Kutchi refugees that queue up outside the make-shift community kitchen at Civil Hospital to get their daily fill of lunch, one woman, dressed in a Punjabi salwaar-kameez, a small greasy bag clinging to her chest, comes across as the odd one out. No , she is not hungry . She just wants to know where she can see the list of the injured- or dead- of the Republic day quake.
Surjit Kaur Ramgadhiya has come all the way from Ambala, looking for her son, daughter-in-law and one year old grandson.They are her only relations left in this world. Or , are they? The answer to this question has eluded this desparate mother so far even as she constantly makes enquiries at the collapsed sites, runs from one hospital to another - LG, VS, Civil- she has been to all-peeping into the wards of the injured with a gleam of hope in her eyes, pouring into the list of dead with a silent prayer on her lips. No luck, so far.
"But how can I leave without tracing them? I am a mother, I cannot rest in peace until I get some news about my son - good or bad", she says with a determination rare in a lone woman in a city of strangers.
Surjit's son, Jagdish Ramgadhiya was a clerk in some private enterprise and used to reside in Shrinath Apartments in Maninagar that lies in a heap of rubble now. Where did he work? Who were his friends? She knows nothing. "`Every time I asked for his complete residential and workplace address, he used to dismiss my inquiry saying he was not going to die in Ahmedabad that I will need it", rues Surjit.
Surjit's only contact with her son was the monthy call that Jagdish used to religiously make to her on the tenth of every month. "I knew quake had devastated Ahmedabad on Republic day and was worried but didn't know how to contact him. Helpless, I hoped he will call on the 10th of this month but when the call didn't come, I instinctively knew something was wrong. In two years that he has stayed away from me, never ever has he broken his promise to call", she says.
Disasters, natural or man-made, seem to haunt Surjit who earlier lost her husband to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that broke out after Indira Gandhi's brutal assassination. And now this earthquake...
Surjit would have had a shoulder to cry on in her second son Ranjit, but he too deserted her when the two brothers quarrelled a year back, leaving her with no one to share her grief with.
Of course, there are strangers who are extending her all possible help to locate her missing family. With just 500 Rupees on her when she disembarked at the city railway station, a Sikh family at the behest of the Meghaninagar Gurudwara, has provided her with free shelter and food. A local social worker at Civil Hospital takes her to all hospitals and police-stations for enquiries.
"God has its people everyhwere to help those in need. I don't know how I am going to pay their debt", she says, wiping her moisture laden eyes just as she gets ready to go the LG Hospital once again. "Patelji was saying the authorities have kept pictures of all unclaimed bodies...I should go there and check out", she says firmly.