As each second felt like an hour during their long confinement inside an Uttarakhand tunnel, the trapped workers started playing games such as ‘Raja Mantri Chor Sipahi’ to distract themselves and keep despair at bay, one of the rescued workers told NDTV this morning.
Pushkar Singh Ari from Champavat in Uttarakhand is currently at the makeshift hospital near the tunnel following his rescue with 41 others last night. The workers left the tunnel after a 17-day operation full of multiple setbacks that kept the nation on the edge.
Asked when they would be allowed to go home, he said over the phone, “Nothing is confirmed yet. They are saying we may be taken to AIIMS, Rishikesh for CT scans. They are saying our condition will be monitored for 24 hours.” Asked if any of his family members are accompanying him at the hospital, Mr Ari said his brother Vikram is with him.
Recounting his harrowing experience, Mr Ari said the hours before rescue teams managed to contact them were very tough. “We had no hope at all. We were not able to understand the situation, we were blank,” he said.
Mr Ari said there was electricity in the section of the tunnel they were trapped in. “But there was no source of oxygen. As for water, the water dripping in from the mountains into the tunnel was the only source. We did not have drinking water,” he said.
Mr Ari said the collapse in the tunnel took place around 5 am and their company was able to contact them close to midnight. Asked how they managed to keep their spirits high, he said, “Most of us were youngsters, there were seniors too. We supported each other. We had figured that we are trapped and anxiety and fear won’t help. So we helped each other out, somebody collected water, someone laid out blankets.”
Mr Ari said those stuck inside included electricians, plumbers, machine operators and foremen. “Whatever issue occurred, those skilled to tackle it stepped in. This is how we managed to get by.”
On how they spent these hours of despair, he said, “The first several hours we just tried to get in touch with our company outside. Once that happened, and we started getting food and oxygen supply, we made playing cards. We started playing games we played in the childhood, such as Raja Mantri Chor Sipahi. In a way, the days of childhood returned briefly.” He added that they also managed to play cricket. “We put cloth inside our socks and made it into a ball, like we did in our village when we were children. And there were sticks in the tunnel that served as bats.”
A popular indoor game, Raja Mantri Chor Sipahi needs four players. Four folded chits – with Raja (king), Mantri (minister), chor (thief) and sipahi (cop) – are distributed. The one who gets the king chit is the top scorer, the minister then gets the task of identifying the thief. If he is wrong, the thief gets the minister’s points. If he is the right, the thief gets zero.
Mr Ari said foremen Gabbar Singh Negi and Sabha Ahmed were the senior staff among them and the two were the last to leave the tunnel after ensuring their colleagues went out first.
The trapped workers survived on dry fruits for 12 days before they started getting cooked meals. “Rescue teams could send only food material that could fit in the 4-inch pipe. There was just one pipe for sending food, oxygen and for contacting those outside. That was our lifeline,” he said.
Mr Ari said their hopes got a big boost once they managed to talk to their families in the last stage of the rescue operation. “It was then that we knew that we will get out, today or tomorrow or the day after,” he said.