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Harder than loss of father decades ago

New Delhi, March 24: Lalitha Kumaramangalam knows what it means to lose a close relative in an air crash. But for the Tamil Nadu BJP leader and her family, the loss they were asked to accept this evening is harder to take than the death of her father four decades ago.

The Kumaramangalams are among 200-odd families scattered across the globe whose lives changed forever today when they received a text message. “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived,” the text message read.

“As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia’s Prime Minister, we must now accept (that) all evidence suggests the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean.”

Muktesh Mukherjee, the 42-year-old nephew of Lalitha and grandson of Indira Gandhi’s steel and mines minister Mohan Kumaramangalam, was among the passengers.

Mohan Kumaramangalam, father to Lalitha and Muktesh’s mother Uma, was killed on May 30, 1973, when an Indian Airlines flight crashed just before it was to land at New Delhi’s Palam Airport.

“This is harder for the family than even the loss of Appa,” Lalitha told The Telegraph. “There, we at least got the body. Here, we don’t even have that.”

Canadian-Indian Muktesh was travelling with his Canadian-Chinese wife, 37-year-old Xiaomao Bai. “It will be even harder for her family — she’s a single child — than it is for us,” said Lalitha, referring to her nephew by his Bengali dak naam (pet name) “Popai”.

“The focus now, for the family, is to take care of the two children,” Lalitha said, referring to Muktesh’s and Bai’s two sons, whom the couple had left behind in Beijing with friends.

The sons have dual American and Canadian citizenships. “The whole family will get together and decide soon on their guardianship. We’ll all take care of them.”

Five Indian nationals were on the plane, including a family of three — 58-year-old Vinod Kolekar, his 55-year-old wife Chetana and their younger son Swanand, 22.

Their elder son Sanved is pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship in astrophysics in Beijing with celebrated Chinese scientist Rong-Gen Cai.

“They had just got Sanved married in December, and were on their first flight to Beijing to see him since the wedding,” a friend of the Kolekars said.

The other two Indian nationals on MH370 were Kranti Shirsath, wife of Pyongyang-based NGO activist Prahlad Shirsath, and Chandrika Sharma, who too worked with an NGO, in Chennai.

The absence of any discovered debris — leave alone bodies — from the plane will make it hard for the families to move on, Lalitha said.

“But really, there’s nothing else to do,” Lalitha said. “Popai is gone, just like Appa. Now we need to take care of the children.”


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