Friday, December 11, 2015

Saving Sethumadhavarao

Thoughts of water and its dangers continue to be top of mind for Anna after the terrible Chennai rains.

But instead of hallucinations, he tells me the story of how he and his brothers saved his 50 year-old maternal uncle, Sethumadhavarao, from drowning in the Bhavani river. Sethumadhavarao was a pigeon-toed, six-fingered teacher who was considered by the family as a prime candidate for diabetes, as his small frame carried over 200 lbs of weight. Most of it on his paunch and bottom.
Map data (c) 2015 Google

At the time of this incident, in 1948, Sethumadhavarao, was living in Jalakandapuram, a town in Salem District, Tamil Nadu. Jalakandapuram was, and by all accounts still is, a small town (population <20,000 people), with no water bodies - no river or lake.  Even the 60 feet-deep wells had only a few inches of water.

Bhavani River,
Anna's family lived ~40 kilometers away from Jalakandapuram, in Kumarapalayam, Bhavani's twin town.  The 2 towns are separated by the great Bhavani river.

So when Sethumadhavarao visited his favorite younger sister, my grandmother Ananthalakshmi, the three brothers, Cheenu, Padu, and Krishna were charged with looking after him.

The three brothers who had all learned to swim in the Bhavani River thought that it would be a treat to take their water-deprived uncle for a swim. On seeing the great Bhavani river, in full flow, Anna says that Sethumadavarao went "ga-ga".

Cheenu, Padu, and Krishna took Sethumadhavarao to a place at the confluence of the Bhavani, Kaveri, and the invisible Amritha rivers.  At this spot was a 20 foot, 45-degree, natural rock slide into 2 feet of water. A calm, safe place for their uncle to take a dip.

Sethumadhavarao was convinced by three teenage boys that he was in safe hands.  So he stripped down into his kachhae and slid down the decline. Fast, very fast! Propelled by gravity and his not-so-light weight. Unfortunately, instead of sliding down on his ample nether region, Sethumadhavarao, slid down the incline head first, on his paunch!!

As his head went under water, he started to flail his arms, twisting his head, trying to keep his nose out of water. But weight and gravity will have their way and he continued to slide further in. In a couple of seconds, he is holding his body in a pushup position, arms on the rock under him, back arched, head above water. And he is panicking. Screaming that he does not want to die, that he is too young to die at 50. He invokes every God he can think of, pleading to be saved.

The brothers realize the danger and jump down the incline, bent on saving their uncle.  Fearing the wrath of their mother more than the death of their uncle.

Krishna, grabs Sethumadhavarao's legs and tries to pull him back up the incline. Padu, stands astride his uncle's more than ample frame and pushes at his hip and bottom.  Cheenu holds his shoulders and adds his strength to push Sethumadhavarao up the 45-degee incline, while he is still lying on his stomach.

It takes them buckets of sweat, torn muscles, and 30 mins to get 200 lbs of flailing dead weight to the top of the incline.

For the next 20 minutes they sit together, bound by sweat, fear and water, trying to catch their breath. And worrying about what their uncle is going to tell their mother. The brothers are sure Ajji will either kill them or throw them out of the house for endangering her beloved brother. All the while, Sethumadhavarao keeps repeating how he has "gone to the other world and come back".

When they get home, Sethumadhavarao has recovered completely from the ordeal. When Ajji asks him about his visit to the "great water way", all he says is that she has real gems as sons!

And our three heroes get to live another day!  

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