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Viji Pinarayi

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When Terror rode by Local Trains
(An anecdote of the serial bomb blasts on Mumbai suburban trains on 11 July 2006) ‍
(Prepared as an e-mail on 12 July 2006)

HERE'S a humble attempt to put into words a fraction of the trauma that Mumbai passed through yesterday...

Exactly after 13 years and four months since the first - ever 'serial blasts' in history, hands of terror struck once again, this time right at the lifeline of Mumbai, throwing the life of Mumbaikars completely out of gear. Going by the initial indications, it seems that this latest strike is probably the heaviest in terms of impact, just seven blasts taking away around 200 lives (as per 'official' figures) and still counting. (Those who have seen the peak-time trains at least once will scorn at the 'credibility' (?!) of these figures.) The timing of the blasts were such that the outcome would be the most devastating, being carried out during the peak hours when each compartment of a local train would be carrying anywhere around 300 - 350 - or even more - people. If the toll is anything below this count, it's out of pure luck on the side of those who were in the ill-fated trains.

I'm trying to look at the incidents from the angle of those who were gifted with the luck of narrow escape from the teeth of Death, because I feel that I can think of myself as one among them, even though not exactly.

By around 6.15 PM, a couple of my senior colleagues – Mr. H. P. Kamath and Mr. K. G. Shenoy –, who were staying together, were about to leave for home, and they asked me to accompany them. I had a bit of work to finish off, so I stayed back.

Just a few minutes later, we got the news of the first blast. The office was 'cleaned up' in a couple of minutes, with staff members passing the news on and rushing off.

The colleagues who had left me behind narrowly missed a train, with the train leaving the station even as they were about to step on the platform. Even before the train was off the platform, a devastating blast ripped the third compartment apart. When I talked with those extremely lucky colleagues later at night, I could see myself among those unlucky few. Had I been with them, I would have caught the train (because I usually walk faster and could have managed to catch the train), and most probably, I'd have been in the very same compartment... And this mail would have been...

Now, I’m coming back to my own 'story'. Soon after my colleagues left, I also wound up, shutting down the Server (on which I was working). I walked out to the road. Normally, I'd have taken an auto, but no chance today. So, I decided to walk. As I was walking towards the station, the road was a scene of pandemonium, with traffic almost in a standstill, people running helter-skelter, a couple of ambulances and a stream of police vehicles trying to make way through the crowd... Then I learned that Terror has struck Jogeshwari as well.

Even as police cordoned the area off, I did manage a distant glimpse of the mangled remains of what once was a first-class compartment beaming with life. Dismembered remains of bodies lay scattered among half-dead figures screaming out. The young and lively lot who were heading for the comfort of home after a tiring day of work, instead, ended up heading for the heavens or to the hell of life in hospitals... I couldn’t manage to hold on for long. Leaving the station, I embarked on the journey of a lifetime - a 'Long March' wading through an ocean of people and vehicles. People from all walks of life were volunteering to control the traffic on the chaotic scenario on the arterial road and helping to move the injured to the ambulances and whatever other vehicles available...

Buses, trucks, vans, cars - taxis as well as private ones, autos, even bikes - everything that moved on wheels on the road was seen ferrying people who were struggling in their quest for the earliest possible chance to get to the sweet safety of home...

I was not lucky enough to manage foothold on any bus or other vehicle. So I decided to walk some distance -to nearby Goregaon - and hope for a chance to find some vehicle from there. The walk, however, turned out to be what I just said - a 'Long March'... I could not get any chance to get into a vehicle. So, I continued my walk. Kilometres of road passed beneath my feet, as crowded buses, lorries etc. crawled alongside. People were seen crowding the few shops where TV sets were spewing out updates on the serial blasts. On the roads, police were outnumbered by the public venturing to regulate the traffic, which even under normal circumstances used to proceed at snail's pace, now virtually not moving at all. The so - called 'traffic rules' were simply non - existent. Who wants rules when rules (and rulers) are of no use...?

In the meanwhile, I tried to call my home and some relatives and friends, but to no avail. All telephone networks were down, either jammed by the flurry of thousands of people trying to get in touch with their near and dear, or purposefully shut down due to no reasonable reasons.

After almost two hours of walk, I am now passing the nearest major railway station - Borivali, where one of the blasts had occurred, and another one was *reportedly averted. Then, a moderately heavy bout of rain added to the woes of those who were engaged in the rescue operations. Seemed that 'Lady Luck' has once again deserted the victims. However, that was not the case. The rains subsided soon.

In the meanwhile, mobile networks had started limping back to life, and I managed to call home and report the status. I also tried to call a couple of friends, but to no avail. Every time I called and waited eagerly, the cold, unemotional voice of the recorded message 'This route is busy' was all what I was presented with.

By the time I reached Borivali, I had made up my mind not to try my luck any more at getting into a bus. Instead, I thought, if I could manage to reach the next station - Dahisar, the penultimate station on my way home - I can manage the rest of the distance, may be in an auto. So, I continued my 'march', braving the rains and making way through the crowd of people and vehicles snailing along. It was during these moments that I got the first 'enquiry call' - from one of my very few friends, Mr. Vincent Antony from Thrissur... And my reply to him was 'I'm safe - that's all that I can tell now...'

Some twenty more minutes have passed since the rains subsided. I now find myself treading along the road in Dahisar. And an auto just came close to me and halted briefly, the driver asking 'Check Naka..?', referring to the octroi check post on the Western Express Highway. If I can reach there, I can hope to find an auto or bus for the rest of the way. So, without hesitation, I jumped in. Just a couple of hundred metres away, I got a fellow traveller, who happened to have another narrow escape, as he had alighted from one of the ill-fated trains at the previous station.

Then I got a message from one of my ‘local friends’, Mr. Bhanu Prakash (who lives near my flat and whom I had tried to call earlier, albeit with no success), enquiring about my whereabouts. I replied to the message and also tried to call him, but could not. The network was jammed again.

Just a couple of kilometres of journey, and we were on the highway. A couple of buses were passing along, one of which happened to be headed for Mira Road (where I live.) Without wasting time, I thrust a fifty-rupee note into the driver's pocket, and without waiting for balance, I alighted from the auto and hopped in to the bus.

But luck was not with me. Just a couple of hundred metres, and one of the tyres of the bus went flat. I alighted again. No more vehicles now. I decided to stick to my ever-trusted principle - "Have feet, will walk" - Once again, the 'March' is on.

In a few minutes, I got another call from Vincent. This time, I was more confident in replying. I said 'I'm on the way home, and will call after reaching...' And immediately after, I got another call from home - the third call since I first called and confirmed my safety. Then, I tried to call Mr. Prakash (whom I had mentioned above). This time, the call got through. He’s also on the way back to home.

Even as I was walking along the highway, ambulances and police vehicles were flying along, indicating the 'after-effects' of the blast that rocked Mira Road, my 'home location'. (Meanwhile, I managed to get some details of the news on my mobile, and also call a couple of 'local friends'.) All the way long, I was concerned about the two colleagues who had invited me to accompany them. I had no means of contacting them, as neither had a mobile, nor did I know the phone number of their home. I decided to try some alternative.

Time: 10:25 PM. I'm now on the road leading to the flat where I live... One more call to Mr. Prakash, who was also on his way home. Things are now getting clearer. And I'm much more relieved that I've just been through the ordeal of a lifetime...

10:30 PM: At last, home....! Just as I was opening the door, my mobile rang. It was my sister - my beloved 'Anju Chechi' - from Bangalore. I attended the call. 'Hello...' 'Thattippoyittilla... Jeevanode undu..!' (Not Dead... (I’m) still alive!) That was my reply! I was in such a relieved mood that I was able to try jokes again... after three looooo.......ng hours...

Then, I called one of our GMs - Mr. Shanbhag - and got the residence phone number of Mr. Shenoy (whom I had mentioned above). He (the GM) confirmed that till that time there's no bad news, and the colleagues were safely home... Another big relief. Still, throughout the next half an hour, I kept trying to call them, albeit without success. The same old 'reply' - 'This route is busy'.

At last, by 11 PM, as I was sitting in a restaurant nearby, waiting for dinner, my call got through, and conveyed my message. Then, I tried to call one of my relatives, Mr. Chandran, who lives in Vasai. The attempt again took some long time. Finally, I got the much - awaited confirmation - he's safe, and still in his office - he's working with Reliance - stranded, having no transport available for the sixty kilometre journey home...

Then, I once again called Vincent and confirmed my latest updated status. Just a couple of minutes later, I got another news - It was about the site of the blast at Mira Road. The ill-fated train had left the Mira Road station and was passing under a fly - over a few hundreds of metres away, when the blanket of Death descended upon the first class compartment.

Just for a moment, may be ironically, I felt luck has not completely deserted us. Had the blast been a couple of minutes earlier, the toll could have been nothing below a hundred, as Mira Road is one of the most 'packed' suburbs, even with only one side (East) of the railway tracks being occupied by residential areas. On any given weekday, any compartment of a peak-time local train (means some 350 people) would be relieved of almost half its occupants at this station. A blast on or before this station could have...

Then another thought struck me: Had the train been on time - it was running late by a few min. - the tragedy could have been much worse. The train would have been on one of the twin bridges across the Vasai Creak in Bhayandar at the time. Had it been so, the toll could have skyrocketed, surpassing even the 'official head count' of the entire series, with people - and, may be the compartments as well - being thrown into the creak...

Somehow managing to thrust something into my stomach - I was not really hungry, but thirsty only, after the gruelling walk of three - hour plus - I left the restaurant. Back to home.

Time: 11:30 PM. I'm back home, getting ready to try some sleep... I am not really tired, but, at the same time, not sure at what time and in what shape I would wake up next day...

So... That's it...!

I did wake up the next day morning as usual, but decided to postpone my early - morning journey by some time. I got a couple of newspapers and spent some time browsing through the pages. I learned that the railways had resumed services, albeit running late by about half an hour. So, I decided to skip the journey by train. Instead, I called another colleague, Mr. Yogendra Singh, who lives nearby and owns a car. It being monsoon season, I knew that he would be going to office in the car. I requested to take me along, and he readily agreed.

I left home by 7.40 AM, and, thanks to the car and somewhat deserted roads, could reach office by 8.55. And then, after a couple of hours, I started off typing mails to my friends....

And this one happens to be the latest of those series of mails...!!

Note: The above anecdote was originally prepared in the form of an e-mail that I had written to a few of my friends on 12 July 2006, the very next day after the Serial blasts and is reproduced 'as it is'.
~ വിജി പിണറായി ~
~ Viji Pinarayi ~

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