January 30, 2002


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The Rediff Special/Sheela Bhatt

A year ago we brought you the story of Lucky Ali, the child God gave back.

We met him again recently, in a tiny house in Bhuj, which he shares with his 56-year-old grandmother Fatimabibi Mohammed Hussain Vejlani and her younger sister.

Lucky had eyes only for his grandmother as she talked to us. And when she cried, he wiped her tears away with his little fingers.

"Look at this boy, he thinks I am his mother!" Fatimabibi said as Lucky clung to her. "He is unaware of the tragedy!"

That Lucky is. At just 20 months, the magnitude of the Gujarat disaster and his miraculous escape are beyond him. As is grief -- at least the kind that Fatimabibi, who lost her two sons, their wives, two grandchildren and her husband on January 26 last year, experiences.

One year is not time enough for her wounds to heal; she says nothing has changed for her since then, except Lucky's age.

Here she relives the struggle to rebuild Lucky's life on the rubble of her own:

MY husband had a hardware business in Bhuj's main bazaar, and ours was a happy family.

My children were healthy, good-looking and well-behaved. My daughters-in-law were like my own daughters. The elder was 25 and the younger, who was very pretty, just 20.

I couldn't have a better life, I used to think.

I was in Morbi, a town in Saurashtra, when the earthquake shook Gujarat. I immediately thought of my daughters-in-law because both had toddlers. One baby was 11 months old and Lucky was just eight months.

I had no idea of what had happened in Bhuj. I requested many people in Morbi to drive me here. I was ready to pay them any money. But people said, "It is all over in Bhuj."

Then someone agreed to drop me to Bhachau. From there I made my way to Bhuj.

I was alone when I entered Bhuj that dark, horrifying night. On my way to our home near Noor Masjid, I met a potter whom I knew. He told me, "Sister, none of your family members live in your area now."

I was told my family was in Mandvi, 50km away. There my sister, my daughter and her husband told me everyone was sleeping.

In the morning they told me the truth -- that my children and husband were buried. I banged my head against the wall. I cried non-stop. How could God allow this to happen?

On the morning of the fourth day, one of our community leaders was passing by the debris of my home. He thought he heard the voice of a child. People did not believe him. Luckily, a military man was passing by. He was kind enough to help. That was how Ali was saved.

When Ali was rescued he was soaked in blood and was sucking his thumb. I was unaware of his survival. His nana [maternal grandfather] was informed first.

Ali's condition was very serious. He was either crying or sleeping. His nana took him to Mumbai for treatment. And then he was brought back and given to me, as his nana understood my pain.

I was then in mourning, which, true to our custom, I observed for four-and-a-half months. It's like living in a grave. Ali was my only light.

Even today, I would go crazy without him. When he fell sick four months after the quake and had to be hospitalised I was scared. I was so much in pain! I forgot I had two sons who were dead. I felt as if Ali was born to me. I feel he is my son. And I am 56 and he is not even two! I don't know whether I am going to die today or tomorrow. I live only for him now.

But he is not eating much. I keep all kinds of food at home, but he refuses to eat. He is surviving only on milk. We have taken him to many doctors. They say, yes, he is weak, but he is all right.

When I cry, Ali tells me, "Ma, don't cry."

He remembers his father at times. I can't bear those moments... I feel so helpless.

Forty-one days after the quake, I paid Rs 25,000 to a potter to dig out the body of Ali's mother.

Today, I have lost interest in everything. I eat and breathe only for my baby. I cannot sleep without taking sleeping tablets.

I am not able to cook. When I do cook, my food gets burnt.

The thing I hate most is going to the bazaar. I cry like a child when I see girls and boys of the age of my sons and their wives. And when I see the friends of my husband.

I haven't been able to visit the graves of my family for prayers either. The last time I went, when I bent down to kiss their graves, I thought my veins would burst and I would die that moment.

Neither have I been able to look at the pictures of my children. I have some 20-30 family albums. But tell me, if I glance through those, how can I live?

The only blessing is that Ali and I have enough to eat. The government gave me Rs 500,000 as compensation. I bought this house for Rs 150,000. After the quake I get scared very easily. So I wanted to stay with the people of my community, Dawoodis... In fact, I paid Rs 30,000 as premium to buy this house amidst them.

My sister stays with me to help me run the house. I cannot do it myself. There is no energy left in my hands and legs. My body seems to have become devoid of life.

I wonder how come I survived when my seven dear ones have gone away? Allah must have let me live for Ali. But then, why didn't he give me the courage to face life?

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