Two people I know were on trains which were the target of powerful bomb blasts which ripped through seven crowded commuter trains between 6 pm and 6.30 pm on Wednesday evening. The toll as of now is 163 dead and over 400 injured.
Both were headed to their homes in north Mumbai and only by pure providence did not get into the northern first class compartment which they well might have. For those who came in late, Mumbai’s trains have either nine or 12 coaches and two or three first class sections within those coaches. Women travellers have a dedicated section as well.
The bomb exploded as the train had just begun leaving Jogeshwari, a north Mumbai train station. And came to a halt immediately. My friend says commuters standing on the crowded platform were hit as well, by the force of the blast as well as by flying iron sharpnel. The second friend was on the train which halted between Bandra and Khar stations (a little north). He says the blasts were so powerful his ears were ringing even four hours later. He jumped off on to the tracks, walked back to Bandra and got onto a bus.
Traffic Jams & Good Samaritans
I drove home around 12.30 am and encountered traffic jams all the way. Some people took five and six hours to do the usual one to one and a half hour drive. The trains were stopped immediately after the bomb blasts were reported and hundreds of thousands of passengers were consigned to the roads. The jams had nothing to do with the blasts otherwise. They were another reminder of the failure long ago of the city's carrying capacity.
While people like me were trying to negotiate the jams to reach home, thousands of residents were on the streets with water bottles, packets of eats like potato chips, biscuits and the like. Between Worli and Bandra (where I live), I must have been offered water and chips by at least 50 people. They ranged from young, smartly attired boys and girls to old men and women. Some stood in groups, others alone. Some even with stainless steel pans with glasses.
Those who were not offering water and food were directing traffic. Many of them had plastic raincoats on. It had been raining off and on since evening, though not very heavily. I passed the Hinduja Hospital and the Lilavati Hospital on the way. Both usually have milling crowds around them when a `VIP’ is lodged. This time it was ordinary people, waiting for news about their friends, relatives and loved ones.
Life Must Go On
Mumbai (Bombay) has been numbed once again. First it was civic apathy, then vandalism by the Shiv Sena party’s supporters (protesting the defacement of a statue) and now this. The serial bomb blasts will have the most impact. Its not easy to board trains and public transport after an event like this. Worse, if you were in the adjoining compartment when the bomb went off.
And yet, there is no choice. There is no other option. Life must go on. Despite knowing that every vulnerable chink in Mumbai city has been exposed. Those who survived Wednesday's blasts have only fellow passengers to thank. Television imagaes showed many being lifted and hauled off. Others, with bloodied faces and tattered clothes, staggered out of stations and helped themselves into waiting taxis.
Against that gore, I think of one old lady who must have been standing for several hours with a plastic bottle. She offered water to every other car that passed. It was 1 am in the morning when I drove past. And several hundreds, if not a few thousand cars and buses must have passed her last night. Many must have stopped to accept her kindness. I waved my thanks to her as well. But she had already moved on to the next car, waving her bottle. I think of her and I know I must get back to work. Like we always do.