Poonch, Oct. 14: As she saw a brick about to land on one of her pupils, Mansi Bakshi lunged forward to take it on her shoulder.
When the Poonch school where she taught began to crumble in Saturday’s earthquake, Mansi rushed to and fro between her classroom and the exit, managing to herd all her 45 students to safety before a wall collapsed on her, fracturing her leg. Then her sister Sapna took over, selling her gold bangles, chain, earrings and nose rings to buy medicine for the schoolchildren injured in the shower of debris.
“The doctors at the hospital prescribed medicines for the children that were not available with them. They had to be bought from outside,” Sapna said.
“I sold whatever jewellery I had on my person to a jeweller and bought the medicines. It was my moral responsibility. Bhagwan ne shayad Mansi aur mujhe is duniya mein bachhon ko bachane ka kaam diya tha. Woh ho gaya (God had probably sent Mansi and me to this world to save the lives of the children. We’ve done that),” she said.
The same sense of mission motivated a surgeon in Sopore, Ghulam Jeelani, who had been bedridden with a kidney disease when the earthquake struck. As scores of injured poured into the sub-district hospital, Jeelani pulled out the tubes supplying life-saving fluids and drugs into his veins and staggered into the hospital to treat the victims.
“I couldn’t let myself be rendered useless in such an emergency,” he explained. “My pain can wait; the trauma that thousands are undergoing cannot,” he said as he cleaned a patient’s leg wound.
Tragedy has spawned tales of heroism and sacrifice all over Kashmir. People are talking of how soldiers declined rest during the first two days after the earthquake; how schoolgirls studying in Class II and Class III broke their piggybank and asked their parents to hand the coins over to the government so that shawls could be bought for the homeless.
But the story of the Bakshi sisters stands out.
“I was taking a class (at the Chailaya Academy in Suthra Bowli) when the building began to shake. Realising what was happening I asked the kids to rush out immediately,” Mansi said from her hospital bed.
“While they were getting out, the plaster began falling. But I rushed back again to see if anyone had been left behind. It was still shaking inside. I looked around and found the class empty. When I started running out, the building began falling apart. A wall collapsed on my leg.”
One of her students, Rohit, recalled how he was saved by the teacher. “A stone was falling on me near the exit when I was pushed by Mansi teacher from behind. It fell on her shoulders. It would have fallen on my head,” he said.
“Had it not been for Mansi, this would have ended in a big tragedy for the people in the town. The school is destroyed,” said Satwinder, whose nephew studied in the school.
“Mansi has become the entire town’s daughter,” a tearful Subhash Bakshi, her father, said.