A tale of a couple who lost their 16-year-old son to a drowning accident making sure that not a single other person loses their life in that same spot again via their mission Mandar And No More
Mandar was a 16-year-old, cheerful boy who had just finished writing his 10th board examinations. After his last board exam on 21st March 2015, he and his friends decided to go for an outing to a dam on the outskirts of the city. This dam was popularly known as the Kerwa and was a prominent place of recreation among youngsters. One particular backwater section known as ‘Maut Ka Kuan’ (The Pit of Death) was infamous for over 174 drowning deaths. That day, Mandar and his friends were exactly there. They decided to take a dip in the water. They went to the shallow side of the water body which was 2 feet in depth. Mandar’s feet accidentally slipped and he started drowning while he and his friends were making merry in the waters. From a 2 feet depth, he suddenly struggled to find his feet below and slowly started drifting towards the deep end of the water body. Despite the rigorous efforts of his friends, they could not save him from flowing into the depths. They saw Mandar grappling for his breath for a while and then the water became still.
Another friend of Mandar was barely saved. Shocked and dumbstruck, these 16-year olds could barely react to the situation. There was no mobile network so they could not make any calls. They reached out to local villagers for help and called the diver. The divers brought Mandar out of the water after about an hour of search. Back home, Mandar’s parents and family had no idea that their world was just about to crumble; that they would never see their 16-year old’s cheerful face again.
After about an hour of the accident, Vishwas and Pratibha Ghushe (Mandar’s parents) received a call from Mandar’s friends. Everything went crumbling down in front of their eyes. They couldn’t believe what they just heard. Mandar was no more. A happy afternoon – very special being a new year Gudi Padwa – had, in a flash, turned to be the most fateful afternoon in their lives. “Mandar was a very sensitive and fun-loving child. His dream was to build an animal shelter. The 16-year-old had also attended an organ donation some months before his accident and was keen to donate his organs. Because of the strange way in which death met him, this wish could not be fulfilled.”, recalls Vishwas.
When the news of Mandar’s demise spread, hoards of people started visiting the Vedghoshe couple to console them. Everybody who came in was constantly talking about the number of drowning deaths at that spot. Mandar’s demise was the 175th. For parents who had lost their beloved child, this remorseful incident was not merely a statistic. The couple knew this was an important and unforgettable issue. It was not a case that just loses concern and attention within a few days. The sorrow and grief were turning into a sense of responsibility that they would be taking in the coming years. They knew that they had to dig deeper into this. And that’s when the idea of ‘Mandar. And No More’ was born. The mission was simple; as the name suggests, they would not let any more Mandars drown in that water body.
Gathering courage, the couple visited the accident site just on the fourth day of their son’s demise and made some startling observations. They identified numerous glitches in the place that made it prone to fatal incidents. Some of the many issues that they had identified were inappropriate safety measures, rough and non-uniform underwater surface, poor maintenance of the water body, dilapidated safety boards, poor mobile network, no police personnel, no rescue apparatus. Seeing these conditions, the couple decided it called for a dire need for concern, attention, and awareness in the prevention of deaths due to drowning deaths in water bodies like these. And the couple along with some close friends and well-wishers stepped into this mission leading to ‘Madar And No More’.
Then started the undying efforts of the couple to pay tribute to their beloved son. They came to know that just about 15 days before Mandar a swimming coach had also drowned at the same spot. It, therefore, was obvious that any superficial or temporary measure would not be sufficient to prevent accidents there. Hence the couple decided to first dewater the entire area of ‘Maut ka Kaun’ to study its topography and get to the root cause.
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The couple put in their own resources and dewatered the entire area only to find out that there was a sudden dip of about 4 feet where Mandar and his friends were bathing. Moreover, the water-bed was slant increasing the depth from 4 feet to about 22 feet on the other shore. This made the area very unsafe for bathing or swimming. The couple then went around government authorities to request them to release tenders for protection work including filling up and levelling the water bed of ‘Maut ka Kuan’ so that people don’t slip into the deep pockets. But this was such a neglected and difficult area, that there were no responses to fill the tender. Somehow they encouraged a contractor, to whom the tender was allotted but he never started the work.
But the couple’s determination could not have been put off. So they decided to take the matter in their own hands. They hired a Poclain machine and with the help of a few local villagers started the work of removing silt, making trenches, levelling of the bed of the water body by filling boulders, removing shrubs and weeds, etc; everything with their own financial and other resources and without any support from the authorities. Day in and day out, the couple would go to the accident spot in the intense heat of the summer and supervise the water-bed levelling work themselves. After almost two months of work, the couple was able to make the water bed of ‘Maut ka Kuan’ levelled at 4 feet.
Their efforts didn’t stop here. During their visit to the accident site for the first time, the couple had observed that there was no life-saving or water-safety equipment in the nearest police station. So the couple donated 2 life jackets, 2 floaters, a first aid box, an oxygen cylinder, a rescue hook, and floating ropes to this Centre for cases of emergency. A few months later the couple led the renovation of the nearby police station and was successful in taking support from BSNL to set up a new mobile tower close to the spot to ensure proper network. They named the tower ‘Mandar Tower’.The next step was in the direction of making the area a model for public safety. Parents of Mandar believe that this could happen only with the participation of the community. Hence the team established a ‘Community Participation Centre for Drowning Prevention’ in partnership with Madhya Pradesh Police.
The couple then went on to large scale awareness drives to sensitize people on drowning prevention. On 21st March 2016, on the first death anniversary of Mandar, they observed ‘Drowning Prevention’ Pledge Day which 300 young participants attended. They also released an awareness song and a radio campaign on that day. Guests and experts from across the country attended a National Conference on Drowning Prevention organized in 2017. Mandar And No More team also started work in another water body near Indore, named Patalpani, another frequently visited the hazardous site.
Mandar And No More is now working towards observing 5th October as the Drowning Prevention Day and wishes that the Prime Minister of India proclaims the same as the National Drowning Prevention Day of India. This will help create awareness in the masses about the magnitude of this problem. Mandar’s parents have proved that tragic ends do mark a beginning towards hope and betterment. They have devoted the rest of their lives towards this mission.
The couple didn’t even register their organization until this year. “I am a management professional, and we are known to be doing everything in an organized way. But in this case, there was no management, we were just working there was some divine force which made us do whatever we did. Probably it’s Mandar who is giving us strength from where he is”, says Vishwas, father of Mandar. A testimony to their undying efforts is the fact that no deaths have happened at ‘Maut ka Kuan’ after’s. They were able to save hundreds of lives when they lost one of their own.