Durgadevi still recalls the wobbly make shift bridge she stood on, on that fateful morning in June last year. The 22-year-old had celebrated her birthday only the previous day and had come with her classmates to take part in a marathon in Island Grounds in Chennai.
They were all getting ready to warm up when the wooden base gave away with a sickening crunch. Those in the middle of the structure, including Durgadevi, fell into the water below without any warning.
Fast forward to January and on Republic Day, she was collecting the prestigious Anna Medal for gallantry from the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for the bravery she displayed following the plunge she took.
The nursing student who was then doing her Bachelors from Apollo College, was standing with over 300 people on the temporary structure that connected the Cooum river to the Island Grounds. Close to 50 students were at the centre of the bridge when it collapsed.
"Water came up to my neck and so I was still able to look around and breathe. I hoisted myself back on to one side of the bridge and was about to run to safety when I saw my friend Nandini," Durgadevi explains. Nandini was, according to the nursing student, only about four feet and five inches tall.
"She was already struggling to come up to the surface. In addition to this, people were using her to push themselves up. In the process she was almost drowning."
A concerned Durgadevi, true to her name, immediately sprung into action. "I don't know to swim and I didn't have a plan," admits Durga. "I didn't even stop to think. I immediately went back down and pulled Nandini up and almost carried her to safety,"she says. Once they were back to safer grounds, professionalism kicked in and Durgadevi was immediately treating her friend's injuries and observing her for any other symptoms.
Through this act of sheer courage, the girl from Peranampet in Vellore District had won the respect of her classmates and professors. "When we came back to college that day, everybody was talking about this. My professor then suggested my name for a national bravery award and the application was sent. It is filtered at district and state level as well and in that process I was chosen for the Anna medal," she says.
The award which is in appreciation of her 'timely, brave and noble act', has brought great pride to her family. Her father, owns a small business in Vellore while her mother is a homemaker
"My parents are not very well to do but have always taught me to help others. Even when I told my mother about this incident, the first thing she asked me was if the other girl was alright. I owe this award to them," she says proudly.
Durgadevi is currently pursuing her Post Basic Diploma in Critical Care nursing and aims to become a Maternal and Child Health Officer. "Several people at the award function said this will help achieve my goals. To me, actual happiness doesn't come from the award but from the thought that I saved my friend's life,"she says.