Dr Suman Bhatia was home when the phone rang early on Sunday morning. It was a call from a US hospital, with a message that shook the Jaipur lecturer’s world.
Her son, Nikhil, who studied in the United States, was in the hospital, she was told. He had been rescued from a lake hit by Hurricane Harvey in Texas on Saturday but was in a critical condition.
Bhatia left for the US as soon as she could.
“But he did not survive,” Nikhil’s cousin, Kushal Bhatia, told PTI.
As the news of his death spread, gloom shrouded their house in the Mansarovar area, where the senior lecturer in a city government-run college lived alone.
Nikhil’s father, Pradeep Bhatia, is a defence personnel currently based in Udaipur.
A student at the Texas A&M University, Nikhil was rescued on Saturday from Lake Bryan, where he had gone for a swim with a 25-year old Indian woman, Shalini Singh. The hurricane caused the water to swell, almost drowning the two.
They were taken to a hospital. Nikhil did not survive, while Singh is still critical.
Kushal described his cousin as “a topper with a brilliant mind and a noble personality”.
“No one ever imagined that Nikhil, who was riding high on success, would meet such an abrupt end,” he said.
Nikhil, who completed his schooling from Jaipur’s St. Anslem’s Pink City Senior Secondary School in 2011 and did his B.Tech in Vellore, had recently graduated from Texas A&M University in Water Management and Hydrological Science.
Kushal said the family was making all efforts to bring the body back to India at the earliest.
“Family members are in touch with officers of the Ministry of External Affairs. They have promised all possible help for bringing the body to India,” he said.
Union Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj was in touch with the family.
“Indian students Shalini and Nikhil Bhatia are in ICU. We are ensuring that their relatives reach (the US) at the earliest,” Swaraj tweeted yesterday.
A sudden current of water pushed the two deep into the lake, reports said. Other students noticed they were in distress and flagged down police officers.
Around 13 million people were battling floods and torrential rain in storm-ravaged Texas where Hurricane Harvey has wreaked havoc, turning streets into raging rivers and claiming at least nine lives.
Around 200 Indian students stranded at the University of Houston were being evacuated to safer places, authorities said.