Captain Sunil James returns today to give his son a final send-off

Published: Dec 20, 2013, 07:29 IST | Anuradha Varanasi |

After the most harrowing fortnight of their lives, Sunil James and his family members will finally be reunited today, when he lands in Mumbai after a traumatic five-month-long stay in a Togo jail; they can now hope to mourn the loss of their beloved infant Vivaan, together

The pall of gloom that has been hanging over the James household lifted to let in a sliver of hope last morning, with Togo authorities finally releasing Captain Sunil James from detention, five months after he was incarcerated over suspected links to a piracy attack. While the family received news of the release with relief, the joy was bittersweet at best, laced as it is with the grief over Sunil’s infant son’s death earlier this month.

Pillars of strength: Aditi’s sister Avni Madappa and brother-in-law Rakesh Madappa were a constant presence by her side, in the family’s prolonged campaign to secure the release of Sunil James. Seen here with Aditi and Avni is their mother. Pic/Nimesh Dave

News of Sunil’s release from detention in Togo broke at 8 am yesterday, through a Tweet from Syed Akbaruddin, who is spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs. A call from the PM’s office to the family a little while later confirmed the breakthrough. Any relief or joy experienced by Sunil’s wife Aditi and other relatives, however, is obscured by their grief over the circumstances of his return. Aditi’s sister Avni Madappa said, “Though the release was declared by the president of Togo around 2.35 am on Thursday, we received a call from the PM’s office at 8.30 am.

Goodbye son: Vivaan, son of Sunil and Aditi James, passed away on December 2, just days before his first birthday. File Pic

Aditi got to speak to Sunil. He is reported to have told her: “I am happy that I am finally released and I am thankful to all the authorities who stood by me, but am extremely upset and unhappy with the circumstances (Vivaan’s death),” said Sunil to Aditi. briefly, and he informed her that he was looking forward to returning home to conduct his son’s last rites.”

“She has been waiting since December 2, the day Vivaan passed away, to mourn his death with her husband. After losing Vivaan, we were worried we’d lose Sunil as well -- till yesterday,” she added.

Sunil is expected to return to the city around 2 pm today, with the flight from West Africa to Mumbai taking around 14 hours. His relatives are waiting with bated breath for their beloved kin’s return home, having waited for five anxious months and made countless attempts to secure his release. Vijayan, MT Ocean Centurion’s third engineer who had also been incarcerated with James, has also been released.

Time for closure
While Sunil’s return home marks the culmination of his family’s protracted campaign to effect his release from Togo, it is also the beginning of a new chapter, equally painful -- the fragmented family, now reunited, will collectively mourn the loss of their beloved infant, hoping to come to terms with his tragic and untimely death. “Once Sunil is back, we plan on meeting Vivaan’s doctors so he can understand what exactly caused it. It is every father’s right to know what went wrong and snatched his infant’s life,” added Avni.

The family can hope to find the closure that they have been cruelly denied so far, by way of Vivaan’s last rites. They are planning to conduct Vivaan’s funeral on Saturday in their church. “We are yet to decide when we will be ready to go ahead with the funeral, as Sunil and the rest of us are still coming to terms with Vivaan’s death. Saturday is the tentative date so far,” said Rakesh Madappa, Sunil’s brother-in-law.

After giving the beloved child a final send-off, the family will mourn his death in a manner that their harrowing struggle for Sunil’s release hasn’t allowed them so far.

“Barely a week after Vivaan’s death, we went to visit the Togo embassy in Delhi and got in touch with the authorities. Due to this, we did not get to mourn his death,” said Rakesh, adding, “Sunil is being escorted by Jeeva Sagar, Indian High Commissioner to Ghana.”

Even as they prepared for Sunil’s return, the family took a moment to thank MiD DAY and other media publications for their help in exposing the apathy of the authorities about their ordeal: “We have constantly been in touch with MiD DAY for the past few months, ever since we started trying to secure Sunil’s release. The constant media exposure helped us make it through this ordeal so far. Hopefully, by next year all of us will be able to resume our lives,” said Avni.

Baby Vivaan’s body is now awaiting final rites at a hospital morgue in south Mumbai. The body had to be shifted out of the Cooper Hospital morgue after authorities intimated them that they do not preserve bodies for durations beyond two weeks, she added.  

We thank mid day for being with us through it all: Aditi
Thanking MiD DAY for its support, Sunil’s wife Aditi said that while she felt a surge of relief after hearing the news of her husband’s release, she is equally distraught over her son’s death. “In the first few months that I was fighting for the release of my husband, I was annoyed with almost every authority for not being able to get him back.  Today, even though my son is no more, I am satisfied and relieved that at least I could get my husband back. I had promised Vivaan that I would get his father back and had promised Sunil to bring him back to his son. Today, I have delivered on my promise, but unfortunately my son is no more.”  She added, “We are coming to accept that Vivaan is not with us any more. Despite all of this, I would like to thank MiD DAY for getting in touch with us first and writing about our ordeals. MiD DAY covered all the aspects of the entire ordeal, right from Sunil’s plight in the Togo jail to what we were going through back home. All this media coverage made a huge difference.”

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