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Monday, April 7, 2014

Backpacker (Gokarna): 30 seconds into Gokarna... The Incident

There’s a reason why certain events happen in your life. They teach you the value of something or someone. Usually its unpleasant cuz the pressure and intensity of such events seem to make a deeper mark in our memory – like a crack in crystal. Years along the person or thing may not exist, but the memory and its implications remain forever. We were the recipients of 1 such memory/event.
We were in Gokarna and the days seemed blissful at best. Just before leaving for Mangalore on Sunday night, we decided to soak in last minute sunset and warm salty sea. It was sweet and playful. We joked about the Indian tourists who thronged the beaches and made a sight for sore eyes. How they didn’t have a sense of personal space and got in our way before a wave break. So we kept getting soaked and out to look for more isolated sections to just be US. I am now glad there were people around. Irony.
Over the preceding days, we had made some friends – familiar faces. Faces who were present in the water with us and kindly warned us that the tide was particularly choppy and it would be a good idea to stay closer to shore. Abeer and I were seasoned beach bums. We knew how far was too far and we wanted an uneventful end to this trip. I think Kudle had other plans for us. We noticed a couple very much in love and foolishly venturing deeper in. The guy seemed rather confident as he guided his girlfriend’s hands into deeper waters even though the waves slapped harder and stronger. Everyone was getting away from the waves except these 2. It took all of 30 secs for what happened next.
He screamed for help. He screamed in time cuz he was audible and Abeer and I among a few others noticed and heard. What I didn’t expect my very brave but foolish Abeer to do was jump in without so much as a mention to me. Natural instincts and I will never argue that. I hadn’t swum in choppy waters in a while so I refrained but kept getting increasingly anxious as I watched him reach them, grab the guy and then just waves blocking my view. I struggled to stand up and see what the hell was taking so long as the waves kept slapping harder. The anxiety attacks grew as I saw 2 or 3 bobbing heads moving farther and farther away. I turned and ran to the beach. Others might have joked I maybe having a Baywatch moment. I didn’t care. I screamed for a lifeguard at Sunset Café. The owner had the presence of mind to veer me to a just leaving catamaran that was taking a few revelers to Paradise beach. I ran and screamed. My legs hurt and my heart beat against the adrenaline cuz each step felt like I was delaying urgency. The boys in the water noticed my fear and I screamed to them to get to the boat. God bless them they did. We screamed about the people in the water. As I pointed to them, I saw 1 head and then nothing and I panicked.
At that moment a 100 thoughts raced through my mind. Mundane, useless, useful, crazy, emotional every thought. Where is he? Did he leave me? Alone? On this beach after how well we were doing? Is he lost? Is he there and does he know I sent help? Am I going back with him or a body bag? What will I answer to everyone and what will I do forever now? Can he hear me screaming? I love you Bubee and you can’t do this to me. Are you there? Don’t give up and play one of your stupid jokes “ek din sab ko marna hi hai! (one day everyone has to die) And many more thoughts that enter and exit your mind without volunteering permission to do so. The heart thumping hurts. I can hear the boys yelling at me and a few holding my arm from not venturing deeper in. I rudely snap saying I will not leave without Abeer. They don’t understand me and I don’t understand their rationale. The boat throws a line. I see 2 heads and the tears slow down. I see someone attempt to grab it but I’m not sure. I selfishly pray its Abeer. I wish it to be Abeer and then I see someone let go of the line… I was distraught and don’t recall the remaining min or 2 until I saw the boat pull in with an unconscious Abeer dangling by its side with his arms caught by people in the boat. I was afraid he shouldn’t be injured or caught under the boat as it came in swiftly ashore. I ran… the thumping still didn’t stop. I realized how useless and limp I had become in a distraught moment. Chided myself for not jumping in and doing better to avoid this. Till date I don’t know what I would’ve done different.
Abeer was dragged into the boat and then carried on shore. He was limp and I didn’t know if he was breathing. I slapped him, attempted the worst kind of CPR and basically shrieked and cried. Not good for someone who should maintain their composure. I saw the couple roped in and desperate attempts to revive the girl. As I saw her state, my panic for Abeer grew. Everyone just surrounded and watched him except for a stray few strangers who tried to revive him. I saw a flicker of movement and breathing. Wanted to stop crying but mild relief and the trauma of it all just refused to leave as I begged him to wake up or show me a sign he’ll be ok. The next 45mins were the worst. They felt like 45 seconds. We revived Abeer who was burned out in the worst possible manner. The girl wouldn’t wake up and I briefly offered help. But when I saw her with lots of people and her boyfriend, I instantly left to be by Abeer’s side. A few minutes earlier, we all realized there was another fella in the water. He had, what I know off, jumped into the water to assist these 3 when he saw Abeer’s efforts were futile against the raging sea and the desperate boy who was only keeping his panic-stricken unconscious girlfriend a float. We screamed at the boat to rope that 4th person in. By now he was like an insignificant lil bob in the water. If we hadn’t known he had jumped in, I’m afraid his body would’ve never been found.
By now everyone at Kudle knew what had happened. Every shack occupant, restaurant workers, employees, holiday goers, tourists… everyone was on the beach. 90% proving useless by doing the standard Indian thing – surround and be spectators while cutting off air supply. Some (mostly foreigners) genuinely ran about, offered assistance, checked up periodically on Abeer and me, comforted me, called for medical assistance and backup, etc. I was starting to calm down but I was blown by the sordidness of it all. Abeer could’ve become a statistic on this killer beach and I could’ve lost my love my life. My anxiety reduced when he sat up, spoke a few words, threw up all of it. Any movement or interaction was GOOD INTERACTION. I prayed helplessly that the girl wake up and the just roped in boy wake up as well. I didn’t want any deaths. The couple was alive and safe thanks to MY Abeer. The sunset. It was a beautiful sunset; one that I wanted to close with Abeer… knee deep in salty sea water and kissing him. Instead I watched it plunge into the sea taking away my peace of mind. We took him to the shack and the room. The resort owner and employees all helped. He was revived with cold water, air, shower and whatever he indicated he wanted. I watched him like he was a rare creature from the sea about to change shape or form. I saw the look and he knew what I must’ve gone through. I held him and cried and I realized what he meant to me. Much more than I thought, imagined, felt or even vocally expressed to him – EVER.
The rest of the evening people came about asking what happened, giving him some company and making him feel better, wishing him well, offering help and assistance. I was too traumatized by his trauma and each time he repeated his story or gave more insight into his thoughts and actions, I couldn’t control my emotions. They weren’t mine anymore. They just seemed to have a mind of their own. I asked Abeer just 1 question: did he ever give up? I hoped he’d say no but I can only imagine a few seconds may have felt like few mins or hrs to him. I wanted to leave Gokarna and incidentally he expressed the same. I just felt nervous about taking along a traumatized and physically fragile man on a late night train journey. Moments after Abeer went to sleep, the café employee Raj informed me that the 4th fella had died instantly. I choked. I wanted to leave.
Our only sweet moment captured
after much fuss from me to seal
the holiday with a pic. 
We both didn’t sleep; he had fever, cold sweats and an upset stomach as physiological side effects. We left late into the night at 1am. Slept at the station. There was not a moment where I didn’t take my eyes of him. I couldn’t and I wouldn’t. We reached Mangalore where he was upbeat and surprisingly cheerful. I was relieved but I waited and watched. It felt supremely wrong to continue the journey, which was designed for more coastal adventures and rough backpacking. I knew when we left Gokarna that the trip had reached its demise. My Kerala would have to wait. My Abeer was more important. There was just 1 of this specimen and as much as he agonized me in the past, I loved him forever. Abeer was sad and regretful of Kerala not happening, as he knew it was imp to me. I assured him that I would never ever hold him to account for it. I never will. There will be more trips. I wanted to return him safely home to his family. We had an 18+hr journey by bus to Mumbai. We tried to have fun and tried to relax through this journey. Found lil to giggle and enjoy so we both kept each other cheerful. Came home and spent the rest of the week enjoying and recovering through the leave.
The ocean jar made from the LSD
dessert jar Abeer gifted me <3
I couldn’t sleep. So I worked feverishly till exhaustion gave me a few hours of rest. I missed sleeping next to him, holding him, hearing him breathe. I’m watchful of him. Lest he wanna be a hero again. I was lucky that evening. That boat at Kudle was lucky. Maybe my menial offerings at Mahabaleshwara temple paid off and Lord Shiva decided it wasn’t time yet to break me. So he sent a boat. Maybe lotsa things. I love him more now… Loss and regain have a funny way of opening up areas of your brain and heart. I was adamant to restore the good memories from Gokarna. So I finished painting a glass jar for Abeer with beach life on it. The jar was meant to have layers of sand and treasures from all our coastal conquests. I left it empty so he was free to add whatever he wanted. :)
End of backpacker diaries (Part 1 of a million). Waiting to create new 1s.
http://www.sahilonline.org/english/newsDetails.php?cid=1&nid=23281 - This is a brief online news of the incident. It doesn't mention Abeer's rescue attempts and is purely to-the-point.