Almost every day, for the past nine months, Pune-based Pralhad Shirsath gets a call from the Malaysian Airlines. Each time, there is a different voice on the line, but the questions remain the same: “How am I? Do I need help? And, we do not have any new information (about MH 370 which disappeared mysteriously on March 8) and the search results will be updated,” says 44-year-old Shirsath.
On March 8, Shirsath’s wife Kranti, 44, made two calls from her cellphone. She had just landed in Kuala Lumpur from Mumbai and was about to board her connecting flight to Beijing. First, she called up her elder son Rahul, 17, asking after him and younger son Yashwant, 11. Next, she called her husband, who at the time was working as country director of an Irish NGO in Pyongyang, North Korea. She told him that she would be in Beijing soon, from where she would take another flight to Pyongyang. Only, she never reached Beijing to take the connecting flight, nor did the 239 other passengers on that flight.
“When I got her call, I was picking up some stuff for the house to welcome her. I had asked Kranti to visit North Korea. I had planned to move back to India once and for all. Since we had lived in Pyongyang together many years ago, I thought we would stay there for a month before saying farewell to the place and our friends together,” says Shirsath, pushing back the lump in his throat, his eyes moist throughout the interview.
He is fiercely protective about his children, and does not allow reporters to speak to them anymore. “They have gone through a lot. I want them to lead a normal life now,” says Shirsath. All the family now wants is closure, and a clear answer. “This endless wait is too painful,” says Shirsath.
Living off his savings now, Shirsath spends his day looking after the household and his two sons. His day starts at 5 am, making breakfast and packing lunch for the children before he drops them at the bus station, and ends after he has checked their homework and tucked them in their beds. The earlier housekeeper left because she didn’t want to work in a household which did not have a female member, and Shirsath didn’t look for another. A busy schedule gives him less time to think. The children, too, keep themselves busy. “They seem to have matured all of a sudden. They try not to talk about their mother. But then there are times when we go out shopping or for dinner, or are just sitting around chatting, when the young one mentions her. In the silence that follows, we are all left remembering how it was when she was around, and wondering where she is now and hoping against hope that she comes back,” says Shirsath, who has shelved all business plans that he had made with Kranti. “There’s no us anymore, so there are no plans.”
Every time there’s any news, every time the phone rings, every time somebody sends a link on Facebook, a glimmer of hope surfaces for the family. “Representatives of more than 10 countries are searching, using the latest technology, but nothing has come up. This is unbelievable. I feel somebody, somewhere knows the answers,” says Shirsath, who is part of an online crowd-funding campaign consisting of five members that was set up in June. The panel has decided to give a prize of $5 million to whoever comes up with a credible clue, and has already raised about $100,000.
Sometimes, just sometimes though, he feels it’s good he doesn’t know what happened to the plane. “That way, there is hope that she may come back,” says Shirsath.