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It’s been three days since the Murud Beach tragedy in which 14 students from Pune lost their lives. The residents of Dalvi Nagar, a locality with tiny houses in a narrow lane, are getting back to their routine lives, except the mother of 20-year-old Venkat Raj Laxmi Pandugayala, one of the 14 students who drowned.
Sitting in a small room with three women for company, including her elder daughter, the mother breaks down every few minutes. The women fail to pacify her every time she holds the bag that Raj Laxmi carried for the picnic when she left on Monday morning. The bag returned the next day but not the daughter. Holding a transparent carry bag that has packets of snack items like potato chips and banana wafers, the mother cries inconsolably. The bag also had Raj Laxmi’s cellphone that showed 187 missed calls made by family, relatives, friends and neighbours.
Shravani, the elder sister of Raj Laxmi, says it was around 7.30 in the evening that they got to know about the incident and they immediately left for the college campus. “Though we were told about the accident, but since the names of the dead students were yet to be declared, we were hopeful. Even the count of students who had died was unclear till then. What kept us positive was that her phone was ringing. All of us were constantly trying her number. When no one answered the phone, we thought she must have been shifted to a hospital for treatment. Even when we saw the list, we held on to hope because as we kept reading each name one-by-one, we didn’t find her name till first 12 names. However, the list had a 13th name also, which was Raj Laxmi’s,” says Shravani, adding that in the last three years, their family of five have reduced to three members. Their father passed away three years ago due to prolonged illness.
The mother, who works as an attendant at the National Institute of Virology, says Raj Laxmi loved visiting places and never missed any outing. She funded her expenses with her own salary that she earned by teaching at a coaching class. She taught science to students of 5th class to 9th class. Besides, she also took abacus classes. “She herself scored 81 per cent in 10th board exams. Though she wanted to make a career in the medical field, after our father passed away, she realised that due to financial problems, she won’t be able to take her dream further. So, she took admission into BCS,” says Shravani, who is married and has a child. Raj Laxmi’s brother is 16 years old and studies in 11th class.
The family blames the college authorities for being negligent towards the students. “When the students don’t submit their projects on time, they fine them. That deters the students from late submission. Similarly, if the college had warned them strictly against going in the risky area of the beach, they would have surely paid heed to it. Simply by producing an undertaking letter signed from the parents they can’t shrug off their responsibilities. How do they make sure whether the letter is signed by the parent or the student themselves?” says Shravani, adding that through Raj Laxmi’s friends they learnt that when she went to the beach, she left her bag in the bus. The bag was handed over to the family on Tuesday morning by her friends.