Know Your Enemy
How hope can be a terrible thing
Ask the families of the missing Dornier crew as they mark a month of no news.
- Total Shares
Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. A numbing quote from perhaps the most iconic scene in The Shawshank Redemption. And it describes near perfectly what three families in Chennai have been living on more than anything else. Three families that today mark a month since Dornier CG-791 went missing over the Bay of Bengal with three men on board.
Make no mistake. In the last thirty days, the families of Subash Suresh, Manoj Soni and Sai Vidyasagar have thought about nothing else. The Coast Guard has put the families into a WhatsApp group through which they are updated several times a day on the relentless search effort, one of India's largest ever. A multitude of aircraft and ships have remained deployed to scan ever expanding swathes of ocean, finally narrowing down to a certain location.
The Indian Coast Guard and Navy have flung everything they possibly can at the search: a Kilo-class submarine, an advanced hydrography vessel built map waters, aircraft with the most advanced eyes in the world, a military satellite. They even enlisted the services of a Reliance survey vessel that plunged its unmanned robotic submarine into inky black depths hoping to zero in on a barely-there electronic pulse believed to be the dying emergency locator on the doomed aircraft.
But thirty days on, there's nothing. No signs of the aircraft. No signs of the crew. Even a large oily patch that had initially indicated the possible crash site has dispersed.
Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. Another quote from the same film.Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. [The Shawshank Redemption]
But is it true? Have 30 days done anything to the willful hope these three families live on? Visibly, no. But the ebb of time has brought with it a tragic desperation that none of us can ever hope to imagine. Visions of bodies washed ashore and the reassurance of astrologers have sent the families to remote coastal parts of Tamil Nadu, to spend hours combing isolated beaches for any signs of their loved ones. At other times, they've chartered small fishing boats and commandeered them to lonely mangrove zones to see if, by some chance, the pilots of CG-791, have managed to swim ashore.
Stop for a moment to picture them in that boat. Imagine how they explained their mission to the boatman. Imagine the looks on their faces as they scoured the waters for any signs of anything at all. Imagine them going home that night. Imagine them trying to fall asleep.
Alone in the dark without nothing but your thoughts, time can draw out like a blade. Another numbing quote from The Shawshank Redemption that must capture what these thirty days must have been like. Is it easy to fall asleep after thirty days? Do those WhatsApp messages from the Coast Guard detailing the search effort offer any solace at all? They've deployed a submarine. Now there's some hope.
In my eleven years as a defence correspondent, I've had occasion many times to speak to families awaiting news about loved ones on board missing or ill-fated aircraft. Sometimes because they reached out to me for information. Sometimes because friends in the forces requested me to speak to the families and assure them that military search crews were doing everything they could. And sometimes because as a journalist, a family driven half-mad with anxiety and sorrow is a story that, somehow, must be told.
A woman who hasn't told her six-year-old son about his father's Surya Kiran aerobatics jet plunging into a field. A father who hasn't been informed by his daughter-in-law that a MiG-29 has just crashed in the north and that there's no news of the pilot. A mother who wishes to know if the Indian Air Force is doing everything it possibly can to find her son in a missing chopper in the Northeast.
On each of these occasions, a devastatingly innocent sense of hope overpowers everything else. It elbows despair out of the way, seals off any possibility of horror. Fully debilitating that one part of them that knows the worst must be true.
But how can there be horror when you don't know? How can there be sorrow when there's no closure? All there is, is anxiety. And hope. In all these years, I've wondered what the right thing to say is to families of missing crews. And I still haven't found it.