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December 26, 1999
'Let baba not feel the chill'
Neena Haridas in Delhi
Rupin Katyal was initially not scheduled to fly the fateful Indian Airlines IC-814 Kathmandu-Delhi flight on December 24. Rupin and his bride Rachana had earlier planned to return home on December 22, but a chance meeting with another honeymoon couple in Kathmandu caused them to change their plans -- and their world -- forever.
But it will take long for Rupin's father C M Katyal to come to terms with the new world, one without his 'babu'. Katyal seemed baffled why his son wasn't getting up today.
"Open your eyes, open your eyes, babu," Katyal wailed as he shook Rupin's body covered in a blanket.
It's cold in Delhi. And it's a long drive from the Katyal residence to the crematorium.
"Let baba not feel the chill," Katyal said, covering the body with another blue shawl. There was no consolation anyone could offer. Rupin's grandfather, Mulk Raj Katyal, has almost come to terms with the facts, even if it means being fatalistic.
Says he, "Its just fate. Why else would Rupin have thought of changing the date of return? In fact, his father had asked him to stay on further at Kathmandu and celebrate the millennium there with his new friends. But then, that was Rupin. He makes friends easily, loves to have fun."
Old age has made Mulk Raj a stoic.
Rupin's mother looks at the freshly-framed wedding photo hanging on the wall, and then there is no stopping the tears.
Then there's the matter of Rachana, still held hostage on flight 814. Her mother look down at Rupin and asks, "Don't you think he is sleeping? See, there is a faint smile on his face." And then break down.
"What is going to happen to our girl. She is the only memory left of Rupin now." Rupin's sister, who lives in the United States, could not make it in time for the funeral for her only brother.
"She might reach India tomorrow," says Rupin's uncle as the family gets moving towards the cremation ground.
There were no VIP cars flashing their signature red lights in the convoy taking Rupin on his last journey. Only one of the many politicians who have been waxing eloquent about how they felt about this tragedy could make it to the funeral. As one of Rupin's business colleagues from Crompton Greaves put it, "They are still discussing, I guess..."
M S Bitta was the only politician trying to console the Katyals as Rupin's body was placed over the pyre in counter No 11 at the crematorium ground. And on the roof above, cameramen shoved each other out of the way for a better shot.
"If only Rachana could have been here to see her husband's last journey," cried her mother. A journalist reminded her that External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh was trying to get the hijackers to release Rachana.
"They just try, right?" she mumbled. And then turned to watch the pyre being lit.
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