Apurva was eight when the tsunami waves that hit the Car Nicobar shores took her away from her father's arms. Shankar is hopeful that she, now 14, is alive and well. More so after the police told him that Apurva was abducted from a relief camp after the disaster.
The longing was so strong that the Indian Air Force officer travelled to Malapuram in Kerala in October this year after reading reports that a girl, who got separated from her parents during the tsunami, was seen in the coastal town.
“I got a call from the police that a teenage girl has been located in the district. She was with a group of fishermen. I brought the girl to Delhi and she stayed with us for four days. I had even approached a city hospital to get the DNA test done but my relatives said that she was not my daughter,” Shankar told IANS.
“I wanted to keep the girl as my daughter as she was also a victim of tsunami. But she said she wanted to go back to her guardians. I took her back to Kerala,” an emotional Shankar said.
He was posted in the Car Nicobar Islands when the tsunami struck Dec 26, 2004, killing nearly 12,000 people on India's east coast, mostly in Tamil Nadu, and snatched the homes and livelihood of about 200,000 people.
Shankar, along with his wife and two children, were washed into the deadly waters. His wife managed to hold on to a tree. His one-year-old son, who had swallowed too much of sea water, died in his arms. Apurva slipped out of his other arm - and was never seen again.
The sergeant's hopes rose recently after he read a newspaper article saying few children who went missing during tsunami were reunited with their family members in Colombo, Sri Lanka, six years after the calamity.
“I am sure Apurva is alive and will be back home one day. I wait to see her,” voice choking, Shankar said.
There are others.
Former air force officer M. Venkatraman is leaving no stone unturned to find his 18-year-old son Arvind Srinivasan, who was lost in the tsunami.
Both the families, along with other tsunami survivors, were shifted to Tambaram in Chennai, a day after the tsunami struck. After a month, Shankar and Venkatraman travelled to Car Nicobar with pictures of their children.
They were told that both the children were spotted in a relief camp in the islands but were abducted from there.
“Some women told me that my daughter was in a relief camp and after some days she went missing. Since then I have been regularly travelling to villages in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh with my daughter's picture. In the past six years, I also met a couple of people who claim to have seen my daughter,” said Shankar.
Last year, he received information that Apurva was spotted with a nomadic group involved in robbery in the Kolar area of Karnataka. But he was not able to get anything concrete about her.
Venkatraman, however, has not heard anything about son Arvind.
“In April 2005, I got information that some missing children were sent to Kolkata for rehabilitation. There I was surprised to note that the website of the Nirmala School relief camp in Port Blair had carried Arvind's details,” Venkatraman told IANS.
“I went to the Port Blair camp. I was told that my son was handed over to two men who claimed to be his uncles. I was shocked to know that the relief camp authorities did not keep any contact details of the two people who were supposed to have taken my son,” he recalled.
There has been no word about Aravind since then. But Venkatraman is confident that he will be back by April 2010.
“Arvind's horoscope says he will be united with us one day. I know one fine day my son will be back and that will be the best day of my life,” said a confident Venkatraman.
Both the fathers have started blogs and online campaigns about their missing children.
Ravi Shankar can be contacted at 09868763263 and Venkatraman at 07299419323.