His childhood friend called him from the sinking Italian liner, delirious and panic-stricken at 3.00 in the morning. What could he do sitting in his apartment in Kalina to save her?
The story of the ship that keeled over off the Tuscan coast, the luxury liner Costa Concordia, can be told in over 4,000 different ways -- one each from the memory of those aboard it.
The following tale wrote itself out when a Mumbai man's sweetheart found herself up against the circumstances that a titanic boat throws up on its way under, unimaginable to the landlubber.
Out of harm's way: Ronnie tried his best to guide Rebecca to safety. Pic/Sunil Tiwari
Late last Friday night, 23-year-old Ronnie Hazra was fast asleep at his Kalina apartment. His usually uninterrupted sleep was punctuated around 3.00 am (IST), when his mobile phone rang, shrilly and urgently.
Half-awake, he reached out for the phone, and peered long enough to see that it was an international number.
He immediately answered it. The caller was none other than his dear friend Rebecca Ngaihte, whom he knows from back when they were children. She was calling him from aboard the star-crossed Italian cruiser, right after it had hit the fatal rock.
Ronnie snapped out of his sleepy haze.
All that he remembers is that Rebecca was delirious, her voice quaking with hysterical sobs. She told him that the boat had met with an accident, and was now slowly sinking. All the horrible sounds of people desperate to live another day drowned most of what she said.
But Ronnie took charge of the situation, and did the best he could do from thousands of miles away at his room in Kalina at the ungodly hour. "I told her not to hang up and to simply follow the instructions of the Captain, who was addressing the passengers and crew on the public address system. I asked her to listen carefully or else she would miss the instructions. A while later, she told me that she had boarded the lifeboat. Then the call got disconnected," Ronnie recalled.
Harrowing hours Needless to say, he lost his sleep. "I know Rebecca for years now. She had joined the cruise recently. This was her first travel and, naturally she was very anxious," said Ronnie.
Rebecca hails from Shillong, Ronnie from Darjeeling. She recently took up the job as a room service attendant aboard the Concordia, while he was working as a bartender with a five-star hotel in South Mumbai until not so long ago. They practically grew up together back home in the north-east. Like Rebecca, Ronnie is keen to join an international cruise liner, and is still in touch with some recruitment agencies in the city.
A few taut hours later, around 9.00 am (IST) in the morning, Ronnie received another phone call from Rebecca. She had borrowed somebody's mobile to tell him that she was safe, and out of the sea.
"Rebecca has lost everything on board, her mobile, clothes, personal belongings, important documents. All of it has gone into the deep. She will have to start from scratch when she comes back to India," Ronnie said. He paused and added, "We must pray for the well-being of those still missing in the deep sea. Their family and parents need the courage and strength to face this situation boldly."