It has been two-and-half years that 18-year-old Tarannum Ansari had gone missing in the sea while attempting to take a selfie at Bandra Fort. There is no sign of her body yet.
“We have stopped looking for her body. It is up to God now to reunite us with her,” said Ishaq (27), Tarannum’s brother. The family, residents of Govandi, have scoured through Mumbai’s western coast for months after Tarannum fell into the sea in January 2016.
A student at Ghatkopar’s SNDT College, Tarannum had gone to Bandra Fort with her friends Masturi Khan and Anjum Khan on January 10. They were sitting on a rocky outcrop with their back to the sea and taking selfies when a wave pulled them in. While Anjum managed to hold on to Masturi, Tarannum was sucked in deeper.
With no lifeguards around, local resident Ramesh Walunj dived into the water to save Tarannum. As time went by, Walunj, an expert swimmer, also disappeared. His body was found at Mahim Creek the next day.
A massive search and rescue effort by the police, fire brigade, Coast Guard and Navy was undertaken to trace Tarannum. Groups went on to scan the coast, beaches and inlets from Nariman Point to Vasai but to no avail.
Atik Khan, a friend of Ishaq, said that rescue teams had received help from unexpected quarters. “We used to go along with local fishermen during searches. At the end of the day, they would refuse to accept money from us to buy diesel. They also used to buy us food.”
The owner of a restaurant at Bandra Fort, which was the base of the rescue team, also ensured that the search team did not run out of food.
As the months passed, daily search operations were abandoned. Asif Khan, a Govandi resident, said: “In those initial days, we would receive updates on WhatsApp about bodies found in the sea. It always turned out to be someone else.”
As the year plodded on, the focus shifted to retrieving Tarannum’s body. “Once we found a part of a person’s body in the sea. Ishaq and his mother Shehnaz went for a DNA examination hoping it would be Tarannum, but the result came negative,” Asif said.
Shehnaz has not let go of any of Tarannum’s belongings. “She has not given away any of her clothes or moved her things,” said Asif.
“If you look at it rationally, there is no chance of finding Tarannum’s body after so long. Even if it is found, it will be extremely decomposed. But when I speak to her family, I get the sense that they are still hopeful of a miracle. You cannot tell her mother that she will never be found,” said Atik.
An officer at Bandra police station, where a case of accidental death was registered in 2016, said the chances of finding Tarannum are next to none. “Bodies that fall into the sea are found if the water pushes them close to the coast. Once a person drowns and the body flows into open sea, he are lost.” The police station still lists Tarannum as missing.