SANGLI, Maharashtra — 42-year-old Pramod Jagdale of Brahmnal village in Sangli district of Maharashtra never dared enter water, so he could never learn how to swim.
But when a boat rescuing him from Maharashtra’s rising floodwaters capsized, Jagdale was one of the lucky survivors in a tragedy that claimed 17 lives.
Jagdale’s unlikely saviour was a 10-year-old life jacket that he bought for Rs 2,200 in Goa in 2009. The idea was to teach his children and nephew how to swim.
“Neither did he or any other kid from the family use that jacket. Neither did they learn swimming using it,” said Jagdale’s elder brother Hemant.
So the jacket gathered dust in Jagdale’s storeroom until August 4 this year, when the Krishna river breached its banks and inundated the fields surrounding Brahmnal.
As the waters rose, Jagdale remembered his jacket.He cleaned it, wore it, and refused to take it off, to the point that Jagdale and his jacket became a running joke.
“Everyone was laughing at him but he refused to remove the jacket,” said Jagdale’s neighbour Shekhar Saymute. “He said eventually this jacket only will help him as he didn’t know swimming. We made fun of him and clicked photos.”
Jagdale was undeterred by the mockery; he wore the jacket for two whole days right upto the point that he boarded an over-crowded rescue boat on August 8, 2019. He was one of 42 passengers crammed into a boat meant to seat 20.
Their craft capsized 200 metres from the shore; 17 people drowned, at least some of whom were trained swimmers. Jagdale, who had never swum in his life, survived.
“It was all because of this jacket. I managed to stay afloat and went on top of a nearby tree, where some people from neighbouring villages helped me get to the ground,” he recalled.
Jagdale is still shaken by memories of the tragedy.
“I can still hear their screams, women, children wailing. I have not been able to sleep,” he said. “If not for this life jacket, I would have been among the dead. I don’t know what made me wear this but I was adamant despite everyone laughing at me.”
Jagdale said he would preserve his life jacket for the rest of his life.