On a hot, muggy April day in Mumbai, six men in uniform and three fresh faced youngsters proved that in a society that puts a premium on appearances, deeds of courage still stir the heart.Among the children honoured at the event held at an Andheri hotel was Asma Ayub Khan (19) who rescued over 25 children from floodwaters that followed unprecedented rainfall in Mumbai seven years ago; Rohit Maruti Mulik (14) who jumped into a lake and saved a boy from drowning; and Ankita Ashok Bhosale (13) who saved a woman from drowning in a river by pulling her out using a sari as a lifeline.
Some time has gone by since then and today. Asma has completed the first year of her nursing course, Rohit wants to join the Indian Army and Ankita is working to achieve her goal of becoming a doctor. The trio have been felicitated earlier. Asma received the President’s Bravery Medal in 2007, while Ankita and Rohit received the National Bravery Award in 2006 and 2010 respectively.
Yet, it was not just kids who the audience doffed its hat to. There were also Indian Navy veterans who were felicitated. These officers braved challenging weather and tremendous adversity, when flying out to save colleagues or civilians in distress. Click the heels and snap a salute to Commander Pankaj Joshi who was given a task to prepare two helicopters under his command for an operation off the Tamil Nadu coast. A merchant vessel belonging to a terrorist organization was moving in Indian waters carrying hardcore terrorists along with a large cache of arms, ammunition, including rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles.
The task included reconnaissance of the ship to determine firing positions and other offensive capabilities. After this was accomplished, the Naval ships in company began the assault resulting in the vessel catching fire. A large number of persons from the ship were seen jumping off into the sea. What began as an offensive operation now turned in to a Search and Rescue mission. The pilot was now asked to rescue terrorists in the water! With a huge fire blazing in very close proximity and heat emanating from the burning ship, Cdr Pankaj Joshi kept the terrorists suspended a few feet below the helicopter thereby ensuring the safety of his helicopter and crew from suicide attacks. He then lowered them one by one on to the Naval ship.M Ramachandran who intercepted an SOS which in day to day lingo means Save Our Souls but is an international Morse Code distress signal, call from an oil rig adrift 100 miles off Mumbai. He landed on the oil rig under difficult conditions and rescued all 16 workers.
Commodore Subodh Purohit saved a helicopter and its crew while he was tasked to ferry it from Minicoy Island in Lakshadweep to Kochi. The aircraft was vibrating very severely and he experienced loss of control when it was about 120 miles from Kochi. Commodore Purohit safely ditched the severely crippled aircraft at sea without causing any injury to the crew members. He also ensured survival of the crew at sea till they were rescued.
In extremely trying conditions, Commander Pradeep Dixit who was the Flight Commander of the Indian Antarctica Mission in 1989, evacuated a critically ill patient by flying in blinding snow and strong winds to the mother ship for an emergency surgery, saving his life. Captain Sanjay Karve on receiving an SOS, helped a merchant ship MV Najad, which was adrift with 803 passengers including 114 children. He first located the ship and then delivered essential medical supplies, and fresh drinking water. He also evacuated a seriously ill patient to his ship for urgent medical assistance.
All the magnificent six at this event were from Mumbai and exemplify the ‘never say die’ attitude of aamchi Mumbai. In an act that saved the lives of his crew, Commodore Ajay Chitnis, a helicopter pilot of the Indian Navy made an unsafe landing on a restricted 10/10 m helicopter deck while flying in adverse conditions. Air Vice Marshal Arvind Walia called them, “Torchbearers of rescue missions across the country.” If the officers are torch-bearers, the three children were little candles of courage in a world often dark with misdeeds and dastardly acts. Their heroism and level-headedness lit up the room that evening.
Take Ankita Ashok Bhosale, who shrugged off all those compliments with, “I’m not different from my friends, I just might be a little braver.” Ankita had saved a woman from drowning by pulling her out of river Urmodi using a sari when she was just 6.5 years old. Ankita, who is now 13 has just given her VIII standard exams and hails from Malwadi village in district Satara of Maharashtra. Talking about the event she recalled, “I had gone with my brother, mother and aunts to wash clothes at the bank of river Urmodi. Since the usual place for washing was quite crowded we went further ahead to finish our chores quickly.” Her brother Atish fell in the river while playing and was sucked in by a whirlpool. Seeing her son in distress, Ankita’s mother jumped in to save him, but met the same unfortunate fate. Her aunt followed suit as she got caught in the whirlpool too while making an attempt to save the others. In the end, her aunt’s friend who had come along was also being pulled towards the whirlpool—Ankita threw a sari towards her and pulled her towards the bank. Ankita soon after pulling the woman towards the bank ran to the village to get help, hoping that her mother and brother could be saved.
Her father, Ashok Bhosale who is a collecting agent for the patsanstha (local bank) talked about how even after the mishap in which they lost their family, Ankita was a strong support for him. “Ankita did not cry after the incident and she used to tell me that her mother and brother are in a better place now. She still points to the different stars, identifying them with her mother and brother.” Her willpower has acted as a source of inspiration to her family and has helped them cope with the disaster. Ankita was awarded the National Bravery Award in 2006. “I want to serve society and save more lives. I want to become a doctor when I grow up,” said Ankita.
Rohit Maruti Mulik has an unusual passion for a boy of his age. His passion is saving lives. This 15-year-old saved a boy from drowning in a lake close to his home in the village of Bhadvan, Ajara, Kolhapur District, Maharashtra. The boy had lost his balance when playing near the lake. “I am always ready to help anyone in need or distress. I don’t think twice before jumping in to save a life. I never fear any problem and believe in facing the situation with courage,” said Rohit, who lives with his family comprising his parents and a brother and a sister. In 2009, then 13-year-old Rohit Maruti Mulik, was having his lunch when he heard his friend Aditya Jhamble shout out his name. Even before his friend could complete his sentence, Rohit rushed out and ran towards the lake. He saw a little boy’s finger movement on the surface of the water. He jumped into the 10-12 feet deep lake, swam swiftly towards the little boy and pulled out Vinayak Sudhir Jadhav. “I am a big fan of the Indian Army and would like to join it when I grow up,” said Rohit, who has become a role model for many kids in his village.
The Mumbai floods of 2005 are still etched in the city’s memory. The extreme panic, hardship and loss of life that ensued actually changed the way the city views the weather. Today, a torrential downpour that sustains for a few hours sends we-can-take-everything-in-our-stride Mumbaikars, scurrying home, as they are scarred by the torment they endured in 2005. Asma Ayub Khan rescued more than 20 small children from flood waters during those floods the city will never forget. Asma is an orphan and was raised at Sneha Sadan, at Chakala in Andheri. An emotional Asma said, “I was at the Mankhurd home for orphans during the Mumbai floods in 2005. The area is a low lying one and was quickly getting flooded. The house had children in the age group of 3 to 5 and we were getting quite worried about their safety as the rains continued.” Asma started shouting for help, none came. She then shifted children to a dispensary nearby. The roads were water logged and she and another woman from the home carried the children in turns to the dispensary. But soon the water level reached about five feet and even the dispensary was starting to get flooded. Asma then remembered a building nearby and transported the children in groups of two to three by carrying them on her shoulders to the building. “All those kids were like my own brothers and sisters. I could not even think of leaving them in a situation where their lives were in jeopardy,” said Asma. Now pursuing a course in nursing, she stays at the Holy Spirit Hospital’s hostel at Andheri and visits Sneha Sadan, which is her home, during holidays. “Don’t hesitate to help people who are in need,” is her rousing message. Whether it was defence doyens who showed hair-raising skill or children who belied their years with a mix of maturity and cool-headedness, it was an evening which left one feeling happy and humbled all at once.