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Their thoughts were rudely interrupted with a loud sound followed by shrieks and an utter chaos. The train thudded to a halt and lights of the compartment went out too, adding to the panic.
“I just can’t wait to reach home,” said Sia stifling a big yawn, to her colleague and flatmate Raavi.
A bleary eyed Raavi replied, “This rain is just wearying me down, there’s no end to it. Someone just plug it now. I am wet all the time, my clothes, my camera… As much as I loved watching it from my window when I was small, I hate it now. Rain, rain go away, come again some other day”.
“We couldn’t even find a footing in the first class; did you see how those women just wouldn’t budge?” Raavi went on with her rant.
“I know re, the city is going to the dogs. And those women were vicious. I think the only difference between first and second class now is the language they lash out at you with,” Sia tried a weak attempt at humour.
It didn’t manage to get a smile on either of their faces, instead both just allowed the train to cradle and rock them into numbness, with their thoughts.
Both Raavi and Sia had met over coffee on their first day at the newspaper daily they had joined. Sia was a journalist and Raavi a photographer. Nodding acquaintance gradually gave way to mutual respect for each other’s craft and eventually led to friendship as they started covering beats together and with Raavi moving in with Sia when her roommate left for another place.
Their thoughts were rudely interrupted with a loud sound followed by shrieks and an utter chaos. The train thudded to a halt and lights of the compartment went out too, adding to the panic. Both had been so lost that it took them a while to register that they weren’t dreaming. Something was really, terribly wrong. They exchanged concerned looks affirming each other’s conviction. Maybe it had to do something with their profession or the fact that they’d lived in Mumbai long enough to know that in their bones. Whatever it was, instinct kicked in as both made way through the chaotic sea of humanity.
It didn’t take them long to confirm their fears when they saw a mangled mass of metal, smoke, bodies and hearing the groans of the injured. Mumbai wasn’t a stranger to calamities, natural or man-made, yet the gory sight was too much to take in. The lure of a story had egged them on but when they actually confronted the scene, the thoughts were relegated somewhere in the corner. As the Railway Police, the personnel started closing in trying to make sense of the chaos, both the girls jumped in flashing their IDs. Helping hands followed as they rescued the victims out of the carnage.
A bomb had blasted in one of the first-class compartments, the one next to which they had tried to hop on. They recognised some of the ladies who looked dazed and bruised. They helped them to a makeshift base as others were carried in. Dupattas and sarees came along to serve as stretchers. The injured and the dead were taken to Sion Hospital, the nearest Municipality Hospital. It was going to be a long, dark night. Just like the rain the relentlessness of horror unfolded as the news came in that theirs was just one of the series of seven bomb blasts that had happened over eleven minutes across various stations on the Western line.
As the girls accompanied the injured to the Hospital, news screens started flashing across the images of reckless horror that had been wreaked on humanity that evening. The city had been brought on its knees, ruthlessly torn asunder, at the hands of some misguided, irresponsible tyrants. The tickers ran with words like, ‘a blot on humanity’, ‘darkest night for mankind’ as the toll of the injured and the dead kept rising. Sion Hospital had been alerted by the time they reached.
Their job done, Raavi looked around nudging Sia, “Let’s go inside and check. I can’t go back home now.”
“Me neither”, Sia replied.
Inside the dead lay swathed in sheets and they saw some sort of categorisation of the injured.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Raavi thought aloud, her camera now out as she captured the sombreness of the moment.
“They are triaging according to severity and the chance of survival of the injured”, Sia replied remembering a workshop she had once attended.
Raavi looked aghast at the suggestion, “Who are they to decide that? They are doctors, they can’t possibly be playing Gods.”
“But that’s the only way to judiciously utilise resources with the timeline they are running against”, sighed Sia.
Scores of doctors, nurses and paramedics kept pouring in, some were so dishevelled as if they’d just walked out from their beds. Everyone seemed to know what had to be done so once Raavi was satisfied with the pictures, the two friends went towards the temporary enquiry section that had been erected to answer the concerned relatives who had started pouring in.
Their IDs opened the doors once again and when both of them offered to volunteer, the hospital personnel were too grateful to refuse. As they went around guiding and placating the crowd, there were whoops of delight for some, moaning sadness for some but the worst of the lot were those who were clueless…. hanging in between hope and despair. Amidst all this, the visitors and relatives of other patients queued up to donate blood for these random strangers.
It was almost midnight when they finally left. They grabbed a ‘cutting chai’ from the local canteen. As they tried to pay, the boy at the counter waved them away. “Chai and biscuit are on us tonight for everyone.” They insisted but he did not budge, so they thanked and came out planning to go back to inspect the site and may be click some pictures.
“Hey Sia, look up”, Raavi excitedly pointed upwards. As Sia followed it, she was amazed to see bright bulbs overhanging tiny balconies and some on the trees next to them to help the rescue teams. The sight was an instant uplift for the duo. On the railway tracks, the railway workers were still hard at work to clear the wreckage. Tomorrow would be another day; another set of commuters would be on these tracks… the city had stopped long enough!
Quite satisfied with her pictures, they grabbed some ‘bhurji pao’ as they headed to one last stop before they headed home. The rain had reduced to a drizzle as if tired of testing the city’s grit. The girls reached their office which was a hub of frantic activity. Raavi and Sia submitted their own pictures and article for the late post. The editor looked at it and nodded in affirmation.
The article would appear next day with the headline:
12 July 2006 Mumbai train bombings: Darkest night; Brightest Stars
Sia had done justice with her words to Raavi’ collage of pics; the hospital staff, the chaiwala, the bright bulbs, the volunteers, the railway workers…. That made this city tick, the secret sauce of the city’s spirit. As their readers would nod in anger and sadness at the grimness of the events, maybe they would soften up at the sight of the heart-warming pictures, their faith that was tested by the barbarian act would probably be redeemed, thought Sia and Raavi before finally flinging themselves into the comfort of their beds.
Author’s note: The seven blasts that hit the trains plying on the Western railways of Mumbai claimed almost 200 lives leaving over 700 were injured. A memorial service was held a week later on 18th July 2006, 6.25 PM, when a two-minute silence was observed as people lit candles and placed wreaths at Mahim station, which was one of the seven affected stations. Sirens were sounded across the city; the traffic came to a halt as everything stopped to pay homage to the victims.
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the Muse of the Month December 2018, but not one of the winners.
Image source: YouTube
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I am a doctor with an MD in Clinical Microbiology, working at KEM Hospital, Mumbai.
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