| TOGETHER, THEY BRAVED IT OUT: Loyola Jamshedpur students on the homeward journey. Picture by Amit Datta
We sing our proud refrain,
Till the echoes sound again.
On Tuesday afternoon, the domestic arrival lounge of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport echoed with the prayer of 51 students of Loyola School, Jamshedpur, who returned from Port Blair after spending two nights, post-tsunami, under the open sky.
'We enjoyed this strange excursion but were scared, too,' admitted Saurav Agarwal, a Class XI student.
The Loyola students, along with their teachers, had set off from Jamshedpur for Chennai on December 18. After spending a night there, they set sail on December 21 and reached the Andamans on Christmas Eve. They were scheduled to return in the New Year. But then, the tsunami struck.
'The bed was swaying and for a moment, I thought I was back on the ship,' recounted young Yash Karan. 'Then, I heard my friends shouting and rushed out of the hotel.'
Students and teachers flocked together to camp through the night of December 26. The night of December 27 was spent outside the terminal of Port Blair airport. On Tuesday, they finally landed in Calcutta on an Indian Airlines (IA) flight and headed home by an evening train.
'I was very scared,' said Adhirath Roy, the youngest member of the team and son of Sharmistha Roy, the teacher who led the team.
Rijuta Dey, of Class XI, saw the silver lining: 'It was an unusual experience, but we still managed to have fun, as we were all together.'
For her aunt Kalpana Mitra, though, Tuesday afternoon marked the end of an ordeal. 'We spent two sleepless nights,' she said.
Nripendu Saha and wife Sanchita, however, were left staring into yet another night without end.
The couple from Howrah arrived at the airport in the hope of some information about their seven-and-a-half-year-old son Risham, who had travelled to the islands with his grandparents and uncle.
'We have been unable to establish any contact with them. We will come back tomorrow,' said Sanchita Saha, desperate for some news of her son.
Till Tuesday, IA operated 17 relief flights and evacuated more than 2,000 people from the islands, said Shekhar Ghose, regional director, eastern region, IA.
On Wednesday, IA is scheduled to operate 14 more flights, eight from Calcutta and six from Chennai. 'Since one flight could not operate from Chennai on Tuesday, it is likely to operate on Wednesday,' said Ghose. 'Around 1,600 tourists will be evacuated on Wednesday,' he added.
Indian Airlines has put the following helplines in place: Calcutta: 22116869/22110041 Chennai: 22560022 Delhi: 25674270/25672226 Mumbai 26156986.
To contact IA regional directors, one can dial Delhi (011-25672800), Calcutta (22116953), Chennai (044-22561070) and Mumbai (022-26156788).