For Ema Akter and her brother Minzal Hossain, going off to attend college in the capital city was a dream come true. It was to be the first step on the path to higher education and all of the opportunity and promise that it offered.
Having obtained top marks in the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exam from their schools in Madaripur district, the pair of brother and sister took leave of family and friends, and made arrangements to settle into their new life.
“They had already rented a house near Moghbazar and bought new books, school supplies and college uniforms. Before leaving Madaripur, they took blessings of their grandparents, family members, relatives and neighbours,” Ema’s brother-in-law Md Rasel said.
On Monday, the siblings left their home in Khalshikandi village in Madaripur district together with their mother, a younger brother and cousin aboard the launch, Pinak 6, a few days ahead of the beginning of their first Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) classes.
But the journey was cut short mid-river and their dreams plunged into the kind of tragedy made possible by the greed of men and the capriciousness of nature.
Pinak 6, massively overloaded beyond capacity, ran into rough weather on the Padma and went down with hundreds of passengers. The pitching ship flung all five of the family into the water.
Ema’s mother Rashida Akter and brothers Minzal and Afzal were rescued by a passenger speedboat after fighting to stay alive for 30 minutes in the fierce current, while Ema and her cousin Afruza went missing.
The family identified Ema’s dead body on Wednesday at Pachchar Government Primary School in Shibchar using her clothes and ornaments because she could not be recognised after three days in the water. She was 18 years old.
Afruza is still missing.
“Ema never even made it to Dhaka but returned home dead. We cannot remember when this family has ever had such a terrible tragedy,” Rasel said.
Another of Ema’s cousins, Badal Mia, said Ema was buried in her village on the night her body was identified.
Her father, Haidar Chaukidar, who works in Italy, could not manage a leave to attend his daughter’s funeral.
When Rasel identified Ema’s remains, he informed the girl’s mother Rashida.
Just before the dawn, Rashida was brought by some relatives to identify the body. Bereft by the loss of her little girl, Rashida fell to the ground choking on a silent scream of grief and pain.
The pall of tragedy and loss fell over the school grounds, observers said.
Minzal, who was to experience college life in the big city together with his sister, said he did not know how he would be able to get on with life in Dhaka.
Badal said: “Ema told me if she and Minzal could, with a great effort, gain admission to university, they would be able to change the family’s fortunes.”
“Ema obtained a GPA of 4.19 in her SSC from the business studies group of Donavan Madaripur Government High School while Minzal obtained a GPA of 5 from United Islamia Government High School in Madaripur,” Badal told the Dhaka Tribune.
Ema had been admitted to Motijheel Ideal College and Minzal was admitted to Birshreshtha Munshi Abdur Rouf Public College in Dhaka for their HSCs.
Theirs is not the only tale of tragedy and grief that has surfaced in the wake of the Pinak 6 disaster.
Md Momin was among the many anxiously waiting at the school to get news of his sister and her two children who were still missing from the capsized launch.
His sister Maksuda, 30, along with her two children, 5 year-old Mary and two and a half year-old Hanif, were on their way to settle down in Dhaka after her husband, Ajimuddin, found work in the capital a few months ago.
Ajimuddin arrived in Dhaka first and then asked his family to join him there after Eid-ul-Fitr, the Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan.
Ajimuddin also managed to find a job for his wife at a garment factory.
The family was hoping for the kind of life prospects that could only be had in Dhaka.
But the Pinak 6 tragedy, it is almost certain, has destroyed this young family and all of their hopes.
For Momin, the future holds the anxiety of waiting for news of his sister and her little children, the near certainty of bereavement, and, perhaps, the chance to perform last rites for them.