Abha and Manali remember that the only ray of hope was a flickering lantern held by a man perched atop a log stack on the platform with water swirling all around him. "Luckily, my BSNL mobile was still working. It was the lone contact with my husband. I told him that every conversation could be the last one as the battery was running low," recalls Abha.
The urgency was well communicated. Determined to reach his family, Sheth, an engineer-businessman, had already got to work. By afternoon, a fleet of five vehicles took off for Dakor. "For all the daring, there was a sea of water whichever way we went. Three times we tried to reach the spot, taking a different route each time, but were beaten back. By midnight I returned home and went into a huddle with automobile engineers, including a cross-continent car rally driver as well as some expert swimmers. We went to work on the exhaust of the Qualis and taped the window vents in a bid to make the vehicles waterproof. We made a renewed attempt to reach the train the next day," says Sheth.
The previous day's experience had dimmed the enthusiasm of the team—many had chosen to drop out. But Sheth persisted. With two swimmers and a house-help they stepped out again the following morning at 11 in a succeed-or-perish frame of mind, taking along up water pouches and as many fruits as they could muster.
Sheth's problems began almost immediately. The Runi river just before Dakor was in spate and the water was flowing almost four feet above normal. A part of the embankment had gone missing. Call it foolhardy or sheer desperation, Sheth speeded up and raced his vehicle across the water, and miraculously managed to touch terra firma. Luck too favoured him. Soon, the water level started to go down.
As night dawned, Sheth & Co reached Dakor railway station, literally wading in with the bananas and water pouches on their heads. "I shall never be able to forget the whoops of joy from waiting passengers as I shouted jai mata di after reaching the platform," he recollects. His initiative had perked up the demoralised passengers, and some townfolk joined in to organise relief.
Ropelines were stretched out from the train to the platform to enable women, children and the aged to negotiate the very strong currents that had turned even the tracks into a rapidly flowing river. Thereafter with a mix of bluster and persuasion, two or three vehicles, including a milk van and some mini-lorries, were virtually commandeered to move about 75 to 85 people out of Dakor station to Ahmedabad.
"The return was tricky, but heady with success at having brought out so many people (we could have brought out more if we had the vehicles), the return journey was exhilarating," says Sheth. He says at times he shudders to think what would have been his plight if one of the vehicles had capsized during the return journey to Ahmedabad. "But then it is the lord and master who guides insignificant humans and makes them do tasks much beyond them," says Sheth.
Though roundly felicitated by all, the district collector of Ahmedabad is yet to fulfil the bare formality of a recommendation that entitles Sheth to be considered for a national award. Perhaps, out of fear that it will show up official ineptitude during a calamity.