Tale of a tragedy
THERE are very few other things that give the heart more agony than to watch a dear friend die right in front of your eyes. It is even more painful when the death is not of any ailments, but due to cruel forces of nature itself. Perhaps it was one of the saddest moments of my life that struck extreme pain within me when I had to helplessly watch Sharique Saadat, a close friend, drown and get lost under the water.
Eleven of us friends, all third year Electrical & Electronic Engineering students of Islamic University of Technology (IUT), had set out for a trip to Sylhet the day after our semester finals ended. The first three days we roamed around the city, visited the Madobkundo fountain and visited the Lawachora national forest among other things. Those three days were full of joy and adventures of extraordinary kind. In the daytime we were journeying through the beautiful landscapes of Bangladesh and having a blast together and by nightfall we would return to our hotel room and spend the night playing cards or just chatting away.
On the 29th of May, early afternoon, all eleven of us set out for Jaflong, a natural tourist spot overlooking the Bangladesh-Indian border. The road to Jaflong was long and winding and the view of the brown Indian mountains interspersed with green grass and trees and the occasional waterfalls was spectacular. We had even stopped on the way to take some pictures, Sharique being with us. Little did he know that he would return from Jaflong by this same road, a lifeless body.
The first thing that we did after we reached our destination was to change and get ready for some heavy rain since the sky had looked gloomy all morning and the clouds were getting ever so black. We took with us a boy half of our age as our guide and sped off for the tea gardens riding on the so called 'Moyuri Gari' before returning to the same spot. At that moment our 'pichchi' guide left us in search of his umbrella which he apparently lost somewhere. We started trekking over the sand towards where we thought the Zero Point would be, a place which marks the end of Bangladesh and which is guarded by the Bangladesh Rifles, BDR. Since none of us had ever been there before, we ended up in the wrong place and found ourselves at the bank of a river, Piyain River it was called we later learned.
There were large heaps of sand and small stones piled up along the side of the river bank but we thought nothing of it and in the excitement, got down to the knee high water and clicked our cameras away without any notion of how big a danger we actually stepped into. Jaflong is famous for its stone quarries and everyday tonnes of stones are being trucked away from the Jaflong rivers to the stone crushing plants not very far away, the stones being later used for various construction purposes. At that particular bank of the Piyain river, tractors had been used to dig up a vast chasm during the periods when the water level was low. Due to the opaqueness of the water, there was no way of telling that just about ten metres from where we were standing, the ground sharply gave way vertically downwards and the depth there, was suddenly about 70 feet. If there had been no water, it would have looked as if we were standing on a mountain cliff. But there was water there and along with it lurking danger. All of us were walking on that ten metres stretch of knee-high water that went up to the thighs. Posing to take pictures now and then, a couple of us had even gone right up to the edge and felt the sand seeping away from underneath their feet but disregarded it without much of a thought.
At one particular moment, a sudden pang of excitement seemed to hit Sharique and without saying a word to any of us, took his shirt off and lunged into the water in front of him which he apparently thought would at best go up to his waist. But in reality, Sharique had jumped off the 'cliff' and into the 70 feet deep water. He swam a couple of strokes farther away before he turned to look at us and was gripped with fear and shock when he couldn't find ground underneath his feet. In his panic he forgot whatever little swimming skills he had learnt just six months back and started to move his arms and legs frantically in an attempt to keep his head above the water. It took us a few moments to comprehend the horrifying scene that was unfolding before us and soon all of us were screaming at the top of our lungs to the couple of boats on the other side of the river. Unfortunately, none of us could swim and Sharique had gone about 15 metres into the deep waters so there was no way that we could pull him out either. There were no bamboo or rope or anything of the like lying anywhere in sight which could be thrown at him.
Sharique managed to stay afloat for only about ten or twelve seconds before the water took him down and before any of us could actually fathom the gravity of the situation. The boats that had responded to our cry were still a good distance away but when one of the boats finally did reach, to our utter shock and grief the majhi announced that he cannot swim. Whether he really was unable to swim or he just did not want to jump into the water we never knew.
Without wasting much time and afraid the worst hadn't already happened, I ran with a couple of friends towards the BDR camp hoping that they could manage a few divers and bring Sharique up before it was too late. At the BDR camp lay another shock for us, the six BDR men that were there at the time told us that our friend was already dead and that there was nothing that they could do to help us. They told us that his body would come up to the surface by itself after a couple of days and that till then we would have to wait. Instead of offering us any help, they went on telling us how people die at the same spot often, citing the incidents where two Shahjahal University of Science and Technology students drowned there last year and about a woman who almost drowned just a few days back. If people die at the same spot so often, then why don't they do something to warn these people and avoid such incidents? Despite the anger that rushed into us at their words, we implored them to aid us in any way they could. All they did was inform their base over their walkie-talkie that a student drowned and was dead.
By the time we rushed back to the place of the incident we knew that it was already too late and we would not be able to see Sharique alive again. Police from the Goyainghat police station and an elder cousin of my friend's who worked for Warid Telecom in Sylhet brought divers and after a couple of hours, Sharique's body was recovered.
This is a sad story which should never repeat and this is a story which could have been avoided if there were signboards informing us of the deaths that had occurred there before and the sudden depth of the water that had been the cause. Speaking to one of the BDR men, I asked him why he doesn't put up such a signboard to prevent such tragedies in the future. His reply spoke volumes of the BDR's negligence as he threw a question back at me, Can signboards be put up on rivers?
Sharique has left this world leaving behind his parents, a younger brother, relatives and numerous friends. His life we couldn't save but we feel incumbent to warn all the student groups that go to Jaflong every year about the death trap that we had stepped into. Visit Jaflong, experience the picturesque landscape, relish the scenic mountains, bask under the warm sun and enjoy the lush green of the tea gardens but if you are not an experienced swimmer, think twice before entering the water.
(Writer is a 3rd year Electrical and Electronic Engineering Student of the Islamic University of Technology, IUT)