It has been a bad week in the skies, with three plane crashes in a space of eight days. In Chennai, K S Narendran is still seeking answers to what happened to Malaysia Airlines MH370 and his wife Chandrika Sharma who was on it. “No one is anywhere near solving the mystery yet,” he says.
Every time K S Narendran flew over the desolate expanse of the sea, a vague dread gripped him. As the plane pierced the skies, he imagined himself, a non-swimmer, at the mercy of the relentless waters that swelled thousands of feet below. On March 8, 2014, this fear would hit home hard. He would lose his wife to his worst nightmare: an airplane crash in the deep blue sea. That day, a Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lampur to Beijing, carrying 239 people, his 51-year-old wife Chandrika Sharma among them, mysteriously vanished after losing contact with air traffic control within an hour of takeoff. The MH370 is thought to have veered off course and crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean, but a multinational search operation, touted as the most expensive in history, is yet to locate the wreckage, months after the incident.
“I am not one to believe some Robinson Crusoes could have swum to the shore. If indeed the plane ended in the remote Indian Ocean, I would hope that Chandrika had a swift end,” says Narendran, in his airy fourth-floor apartment in south Chennai. But he has met other families who continue to hang on to such hypnotic wisps of hope. “People believe theories that feed their hopes and help keep their emotional balance. No matter what your level of acceptance of loss, there is always a little doubt you harbour,” says the 50-year-old. “When I encounter people who are so resolute in their faith, it is hard and heartbreaking.”
Light streams in through large windows, imparting a wistful sheen to the clay floor tiles. In the balcony, an empty swing stirs in the breeze. Sharma, his wife of 25 years, was a social worker and executive secretary of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, an organisation which works with small-scale fisheries on livelihood issues. She actively sought out organic and wholesome food, revelled in hand-crafted artefacts and loved her plants at home. The last film they watched together, some six months ago, was Dedh Ishqiya. Sharma travelled extensively — in fact, she was