“I knew every child and adult in Malin village. They were so warm, I ate with them often though none were my relatives,” says Pratap Kale, who always used to park his bus at the landslide-hit village at night. Devidas Deshpande reports.
Pratap Kale, the Maharashtra State Transport bus driver who broke the news of the Pune village landslide to the world, finally reached his home in Ghodegaon village on Friday, three days after the incident.
For three days, Kale was forced to stay in Ahupe village, about 30 kms from the Malin, the site of the massive landslide which leveled scores of houses resulting in the death of at least 70 people.
On Tuesday, July 29, Kale left for Ahupe village from Manchar, a job he’s been doing for the last 20 years. The bus stays in the village for the night and leaves for Manchar the next morning.
At 6 pm, when Kale started his return journey, a villager told him that there was a landslide. “Initially, I did not think it was a big incident since this is a common phenomenon here. However, when the bus reached at a height, I found that Malin village, which I was accustomed to see since 1994, was not there. There was just a mass of red soil and water flushing down!” he said, remembering the horror.
Kale immediately alerted his brother who is also a driver in the Rajgurunagar depot and runs the bus on the same route. He told them not to ply the vehicle in that direction and also asked them to tell the village seniors that a big tragedy has struck.
“I knew every child and adult of the village. They always offered us meal and welcomed us when we had to stay there. I cannot just forget their warmth. None of them were my relatives, but I ate with them so many times,” he said, with a twinkle in the eye.
Since the only route to the village was blocked by the debris, Kale could not bring his bus back to the depot. He waited for two days for the road to be cleared, silently watching the debris being cleared and bodies recovered.
On Thursday night, he could again run the bus and brought it in the early hours of Friday to the Naryangaon depot.
“I just reached my home at 6 am today. Though my family members are accustomed to me being away from the home for days, this was the first time they were really worried. I had told my brother to convey the news to my family members that I was safe. Nevertheless they were extremely happy to see me back,” he said.
Image: Pratap Kale speaks to Rediff.com on his return to his village
Photograph: Nitin Lawate