“Cook some rice for us, Maa [Mother] … We’re on the way to Dhaka and will soon be crossing the river [Padma].”
— These were the last words from Rokhsana as she spoke to her mother Shahnaz Begum over the cell phone on Monday morning before she reached Kawrakandi launch terminal. Little did Shahnaz know that her elder daughter would not make it home and have the food she had prepared.
“Where have you gone? Who will eat the rice?” wailed the elderly mother at the Mawa launch ghat yesterday.
After celebrating Eid-ul-fitr with her in-laws at Shibchar in Madaripur, Rokhsana along with her husband Mizanur Rahman and children — Mili and Moin — were returning to their house at Shuvadda in Keraniganj. The husband was a garment trader.
When Shahnaz and her younger daughter learned about the capsize of a launch in the Padma, they turned on the television for news. They called her over the phone, but found it switched off. They had an ominous feeling that something terrible had happened to Rokhsana.
Rekha, a resident of Faridpur, bursts into tears at Mawa terminal on the bank of the Padma as seven members of her family remain missing in the Pinak-6 disaster.
Sparing no time, the family rushed to the Mawa ghat at Louhajang in Munshiganj. And since then they have been waiting there anxiously.
“More than 27 hours have passed, but they could not locate the launch yet, let alone give us any news of the missing,” said Sumi, younger sister of Rokhsana.
Among the three children of her sister, Mili was a Class-III student of Shuvadda High School. Her brother Moin was only two-years-and-one-month old.
The other child Mim, who had stayed with her grandparents in Dhaka during Eid, does not yet know about this incident.
“She [Mim] asks me why her mother is not coming yet. What will I say in reply to the six-year-old kid?” said Shahnaz.
MV Pinak-6, said to be carrying more than 200 passengers against a capacity of 85, sank within minutes in the mighty Padma river after being sucked into the strong currents at Louhajang turning point. Three bodies have been recovered while at least 129 more are missing and feared dead.
The air on the banks of the Padma is heavy with the wailing of people desperately waiting for news of the fate of their loved ones. But with hardly any news yet, their wait becomes longer and their grief turns into anger.
Kamrunnahar Kanan was sitting at a tea stall staring blankly at the Padma river. She would hardly speak and would collapse in tears frequently. Her husband Zakir Hossain, a stock market investor, was on the ill-fated launch on his way to Dhaka after celebrating Eid with his family at Bakerganj in Barisal.
“‘Pray for me so that I can reach safely — this is what he told me while leaving home,” murmured Kanan, who had come to Mawa on Monday night after hearing the news.
Three brothers of Zakir were there too, awash in tears.
Mohammad Mostofa was frantically looking for his missing sister Mitu, 27, and nephew Miraz. He was going to the information centre one moment and to the divers the other. But every time, he had to return without any information.
Mitu along with her husband and child had gone to Jhalakathi to celebrate Eid. Her husband, a businessman, returned to Dhaka two days after Eid.
“Bhai [brother], we have boarded the launch,” he said, quoting his sister. “I could not imagine she would never get off the launch.” He said he was supposed to take Miraz for a day out once the six-year-old returned to Dhaka.
Mitu’s husband hired a trawler and was scouring the river in search of his wife and son, Mostafa said.
There were many like Mitu’s husband who, instead of waiting on the banks, were searching for their near ones in the river on trawlers and boats.
Nothing could console middle-aged Rekha, who was wailing and waiting as seven relatives of her remained missing. Her brother, sister-in-law and their son, sister, brother-in-law and their two children were returning on the launch from Faridpur.
While their wait gets longer and the pain more excruciating, relatives were gathering at the information centre to put the names of the missing ones on the list. After more than 30 hours of frantic search, they were yet to know whether they would ever get to see their loved ones again.
Wasim Bin Habib and Pankaj Karmakar