"His eyes are too tired to weep anymore. Since yesterday, he has been asking where his mother is." 11-year-old Salendra Manideep still doesn’t know that his mother, Varalakshmi, was killed in the tragic bus accident in Telangana's Jagtial district, which claimed 57 lives on Tuesday.
While Varalakshmi may have just been a statistic for government authorities, she was the centre of her son's universe. Manideep, a Class 5 student, skipped school to meet his grandmother in Ramannapet village on Tuesday. Little did he know that what promised to be an exciting day for him, would turn tragic within a couple of minutes.
In the accident, Manideep suffered a fracture on his left arm and a minor injury on his scalp. He was rushed to the Jagtial area hospital and was ready to be discharged on Wednesday morning. But Varalakshmi was killed in the accident, as the bus fell off Kondagattu Ghat Road while navigating a sharp curve.
"He loves his mother," says Uma, his cousin. "He’s been crying constantly asking for his mother since yesterday. I had a tough time convincing him to drink coconut water, as he would refuse to eat or drink, and just keep asking for his mother … Unable to see him suffer like this, the doctor administered a sedative."
Uma sits next to Manideep's bed in the hospital's emergency ward, waiting for doctors to come and change his dressing.
He still doesn’t know that he has to be the one who will cremate his mother for his father is an alcoholic, she says.
"I don’t know how it will be… He’s still under the impression that his mother is alive," she says, breaks down silently so Manideep doesn’t get alarmed by her crying.
At 8.40 am on Wednesday, his relatives arrive in a car. After dressing his wounds, they take him to Shanivarampet.
Manideep thinks that things will return to normal, as they cross fields and see other vehicles on their way back to the village.
While Uma and one of his relatives talk about the accident, he intervenes, "I saved two children’s lives. I was under the seat. When an anna came to rescue us, I took both the kids in my arms and handed over them to safety."
His relatives marvel at his deed and praise him, but they can’t stop whispering about what he may do when he sees his mother’s lifeless body.
Before reaching Shanivarampet, we pass through Himmathraopet. The entire village is in mourning. Tents have been pitched outside many houses and the relatives partially block the thoroughfare to make arrangements for the dead. At least nine persons from Himmathraopet were killed in the accident.
Uma panics at the sight and tries to comfort Manideep. "Don't cry when you see Amma. You should be brave." This is all she can tell him for they have nearly reached the village.
Manideep's grieving relatives swarm his house in Shanivarampet. As soon as Manideep reaches home, he's taken to his mother’s body. After a brief glimpse of her body, he has to be taken away as he breaks down.
Life will never be the same again for the 11-year-old.
The death toll in Tuesday's ghastly bus accident in Telangana rose to 57 even as the state government suspended an official of the State Road Transport Corporation and ordered an inquiry into the accident.
The Telangana State Road Transport Corp (TSRTC) bus carrying close to 90 passengers fell off Kondagattu Ghat Road while returning from Anjaneya Swamy temple atop Kondagattu Hills, about 190 km from Hyderabad.