For a 25-year-old Manjeet Chauhan stuck in Silkyara tunnel survival hinged on a picture of his parents and words of a lost brother, whom he took as a role model after his death in an accident last year.
Chauhan crawled out of the Uttarkashi tunnel after 17 days of being stranded inside and broke down in tears hugging his father.
“I asked him to stop crying but he wouldn’t listen. Even I started crying,” the native of Bhairampur village of UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri district told PTI over the phone.
Chauhan remembered the day the tunnel collapsed, “I was working hardly 15 metres away from where the tunnel collapsed. I thought it was a dream at first. It turned out to be a nightmare.”
The first 24 hours after the collapse were the hardest for everyone, he said.
“All of us were scared, people were saying all kinds of things. Thirst, food shortage, suffocation everything came to the mind all at once. But when we established a connection with a four-inch drain pipe from outside, the mood began to change,” recalled Chauhan .
With every passing day, as the rescue work progressed outside, the morale of the stranded labourers, 41 in all, went up. Later, arrangements were made for them to speak to their loved ones.
“The first time I spoke to my father, I told him that I would return for sure and asked him to take care of my mother,” said Chauhan, who lost his brother in an accident last year.
“My brother was more sincere and caring than me. He always used to say ‘Who will care about our parents if not us.’ His words echoed in my mind often. I also set a picture of my parents as the wallpaper on my phone and used to see it several times during the day. It helped me not lose hope,” he said.
Labourers literally got a lifeline when the rescuers managed to drill a 6-inch wide pipe to supply them with hot food.
“I loved the dal they used to send inside. Besides the daily walks, I used to look forward to the hot dal sent to us,” Chauhan said.
As part of the routine, the labourers used to walk along the 2-kilometre stretch inside the tunnel, do yoga, and play mobile games with each other.
“We all became friends. We talked about our family members, the things we would take with us when we return and how they would react. Over days, we became confident that we would get out soon,” he said.
Now out and under medical observation, Chauhan says his biggest regret is that he missed the cricket World Cup final.
“We were planning to make arrangements for the World Cup final before the collapse. I will watch the highlights once I return home,” said Chauhan, a Virat Kohli fan.
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