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Kanishka kin hail Irish kindness

June 24, 2005 20:37 IST

One family member after another, who spoke at the memorial ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the Air-India tragedy, referred to the hospitality and kindness of the Irish people when the tragedy struck them on June 23, 1985.

People opened their homes, their hearts and shared the grief of the victims' families. Many of them have formed deep bonds of friendship.

"As I commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Air-India tragedy, I say thank you with deep gratitude to the people of Ireland for their incredible compassion and human kindness that they showered on us. We believe this was a gift given to us even in our darkest despair and grief," Lata Pada, who lost her husband Vishnu and daughters Brinda (18) and Arti (15), told this reporter.

For several minutes, she stood before the memorial wall, praying with her hands folded and eyes closed, as her brother Ramesh Srinivasan stood beside her, holding an umbrella to protect her from the cold drizzle.

The weather did not deter the grieving families from praying for their loved ones lost in the act of mass murder.

Usha Thampi was only six when she lost her mother, Vijaya, who was 28. She was the first from the victims' families to be called to the podium to speak.

With Irish President Mary McAleese and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin seated next to her on the stage, Usha spoke about the senseless tragedy and how their search for justice continues.

She had special words for the Irish people. "They shared our pain, shared our tears, placed us in their hearts. We have formed deep friendships with many of them."

Padmini Turlapati lost her sons Sanjay (15) and Deepak (11).

"This year on the 20th anniversary, all of us have gathered here once again to remember our loved ones and to express deepest gratitude to the people of Ireland who without hesitation embraced us with compassion and kindness," she said.

"Your love gave us the will to live on. We developed a kinship with you as you represent the best of humanity. You beautiful, compassionate people understood the pangs of agony. Some of us have sought refuge and comfort year after year and you have sustained our flagging spirits. It is with your permission that I can come here on my pilgrimage."

Susheel Gupta was 12 when he lost his mother Ramwati. He works for the Justice Department in Ottawa. He said 20 years have passed by and "the world is crumbling around us. We cannot go on. Things do not make sense but life has to go on. Be kind to yourself."

Some noted that Ahakista means a bridge, and Ahakista has become a 'bridge' of friendship between the victims' families and the people of Ireland.

McAleese referred to the inscription on the Sundial monument: 'Time flies, the sun rises and shadows fall, let it pass by, love reigns for ever over all'.

Air-India Flight 182 disintegrated mid-air at 8.13 am on June 23, 1985. The shadows of the large Sundial in the middle of the monument is meant to touch a spot every June 23 at 8.13 am.

Besides dozens of speeches and recitations from various religions, the memorial ceremony involved the release of 329 white balloons, while 331 paper lanterns (two more for the Japanese baggage handlers who were killed in the Narita airport bombing) were set afloat on the Atlantic.

McAleese and Martin took turns in setting the lanterns afloat and stand on the shores in their prayers for eternal peace for the victims and their families.

As the ceremony was in progress, the waves of the Atlantic were sprinkling water all over, reminding everyone present of the tragic morning of June 23, 20 years ago, about 200 km from the coast where the monument was built a year later.

A day after the moving ceremony, there were not many people at the memorial wall. But the flowers were there and so were photographs of many victims, pasted on their names.

Ajit Jain in Ahakista, Ireland