Thousands of flood victims here in Maharashtra managed to smile feebly and their faces lit up with joy, almost a fortnight after their normal lives were suddenly washed away by torrential rains and massive floods in the south-western parts of the state.
For, there were two ladies from Mumbai who visited the town and spent time with the flood victims, and offered them a sympathetic shoulder to cry, doing wonders for their sagging morale and psyche.
They were: Bollywood actress and Congress leader Urmila Matondkar and Sharmila Thackeray, wife of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) President Raj Thackeray.
The two women are currently touring some of the worst-hit areas of Sangli, and will be next in Kolhapur on Thursday, their respective party aides said.
Sharmila, accompanied by some MNS activists reached the Brahmnal village, which witnessed a grave tragedy on August 8 when a rescue boat capsized, in which at least 15 persons were killed.
"One local family lost four women who drowned right in front of their eyes... A minor daughter who survived, and other male members of the family are still in shock.
"Sharmila-vahini consoled them, and patiently listened to the details of the tragedy narrated by the villagers... how help still eludes them from the government, etc," an accompanying aide, Sachin More, told IANS from the village.
Unable to control her emotions at times, Sharmila met each and every family in the village, distributed around 1,000 packets of wheat, cleaning materials, toiletries, sleeping mats, blankets, utensils and medicines.
"Look around, even now there is two-three feet deep muck in the whole village, our clothes are not drying... bouts of rain continue, we have lost all our belongings," wept one village lady, who lost a relative in the boat tragedy.
Later on Wednesday, Sharmila will be distributing financial aid among a dozen families in Shirol-Takwade village in Ichalkaranji, Kolhapur, where the MNS workers will also construct homes for the flood victims, More added.
"Last week, some people from Shirol-Takwade called up Raj (Thackeray) and narrated their plight -- how they spent nights in open with rains pouring on them and their families... He has promised not only financial help but also reconstruct their homes at the earliest," More said.
In Sangli on Wednesday, Urmila Matondkar also brought aid material to the relief of hundreds of weary victims, who were eking out an existence in temporary camps on the border of Krishna river, said an aide Kishore Pandit.
"I have come here purely in my personal capacity... I have seen some other places ravaged by natural calamities in the past in other parts of India, but I feel that the havoc in this part of Maharashtra is one of the worst...
"My heart goes out to all the people here. I shall do whatever I can to bring a smile to their faces," Urmila told mediapersons.
At one location in the city, over 5,000 victims 'flooded the venue' to meet and greet her, many -- momentarily forgetting their devastating losses or personal tragedies -- there were smiles despite tragedies, as everyone jostled for a closer view of the "Rangeela" actress.
"Many people, some crying, rushed to Urmilaji, narrated their harrowing experiences, and mentioned their requirements by way of help... She responded very positively and promised all assistance possible," said another activist Shivanand Sharma.
Visiting nearby Miraj town, Urmila made it clear to the hundreds of people that her exercise was purely in her personal capacity to help the victims, not as a political leader or a filmstar, "to share their grief and lend a helping hand".
"Tomorrow is India's Independence Day. On this occasion, I appeal to all the people of India to spare a thought for the people in the flood-hit areas of Maharashtra and do whatever they can to help them," Urmila added.
Pandit told the reporters that the actress would be distributing over 5,000 food packets, blankets, clothes for women, medicines, and other needs, with the help of Sangli District Congress unit.
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