|Mr RC Sharma (1926-'97)|
The year was 1954 and the place Ballia in Uttar Pradesh. The fury of nature was showing its worst facet. It had been raining incessantly for a week. The innumerable tributaries of Ganga were swollen beyond imagination, contributing relentlessly to the holy river that was in full spate widening its span dangerously by the minute. Its swirling waters were furiously taking away with it everything that came its way, be it the huts, the cattle or the human beings.
The rescue operations were in full swing. The local administration under his command was trying to get the villages evacuated, but the villagers were resisting it. They preferred to be flown away in the holy stream than to leave their ancestral place. They were willing to be guzzled by Ganga Maiyya if it was their destiny. He had pressed boats and steamers into action saving lives from drowning. Ace swimmers deployed on the boats were pulling the people out from the clutches of imminent death in a watery grave that awaited them in the sacred river. And he had to monitor them on all fronts.
He had left home the previous morning, supervising personally the activities of the rescue teams, and ensuring the safety and security of the affected people in his area. He was always there to lead from the front. There was no news of him and his young wife was worried no end but forced to manage a cool façade. She surely was not expected to panic.
It was 3 o'clock in the evening when his official Jeep screeched unannounced in the portico and he hopped out. Moving with the speed of lightning, he announced, “I am going for my bath. Give me the lunch in five minutes. I am leaving again after that.” He was so engrossed in his duty that he had not eaten anything in the last twenty-four hours.
His wife knew that five minutes meant five minutes. There was no gas, no refrigerator, and no microwave oven those days. Actually, there was no electricity in Ballia then although it was district headquarters. Knowing the uncertainty of her husband’s movement, she kept boiled potatoes ready all the time. Pumping two kerosene pressure stoves simultaneously, she promptly dished out jeera aloo and parathas.
|A boat in Ganga (A file photo)|
A few miles away when he turned around, he was surprised to find his little daughter sitting there much to his surprise. “What are you doing here?” he asked her.
“I also want to see the floods in Ganga. I will go with you in the boat,” she replied excitedly.
It was getting late and he had no time to return and drop her back. Thus, she accompanied him on the small unsteady steamer, rocking dangerously in the furious waters of the raging river. Scared on seeing a family drifting away atop a hut in the river, she clung to his legs only to be picked up by him reassuringly. The presence of his child did not deter him from performing his role until late at night when darkness set in.
He was my father who had always put public interest above everything else and whose sense of duty was much above the welfare of self or family. He was ready to plunge into the riskiest of situations without worrying about his life. But my mother was always there to watch the entire family's interests without being obtrusive. Perhaps that is why she had pushed me into his Jeep to apply brakes on his risk-taking appetite that evening. But would he dither?
On your 88th birth anniversary, today, I salute you dear father for your amazing sense of duty!