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The children of 11/7: 'Papa was the best'

July 11, 2007

When seven bombs went off on seven trains across Mumbai last July it claimed the lives of 187 men and women.

On that black, rainy, wretched night, countless children lost their fathers.

On the first anniversary of 11/7, meets some of the children whose lives were cruelly changed forever:

The first thing you notice is her dazzling smile.

Seven-year-old Beeba Joseph is a bit apprehensive about talking to strangers.

After that it does not take her more than five minutes to get acquainted with anyone. That is a trait she inherited from her father Benny.

Benny Joseph would have been proud of Beeba's social skills.

But Benny is not around to feel pride in his little girl.

He suddenly disappeared from her life at 6.35 on that ghastly evening, when he was grieviously injured on an ill-fated train pulling into Borivali station, explains her grandmother Mariamma Joseph.

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Beeba is aware her father is dead and that his smiling face will never ever be back in her life to give her comfort. She has absorbed this painful truth in its entirety.

If someone asks her whom she love most in this entire world, without a moment of hesitation comes the reply: "Papa!" The dazzling smile still plays on her lips. That is when the pain hits you, like a sharp slap right across your face.

Beeba's father worked as a supervisor with a businessman based in south Mumbai. Benny was hurrying home from work, like many Mumbaikars on the evening of July 11, when a blast went off in the Virar Fast he was travelling on, when it arrived at Borivali. Seriously injured, he was transferred to the Bhagwati Hospital and later to the Nanavati Hospital. He spent a week paralysed and then succumbed to his wounds on July 25.

Like hundreds of people scattered across this metropolis, on that fateful night Beeba's life was pushed onto a new trajectory. But five minutes is all it takes to gauge the grace and dignity with which the child has accepted this awful reality.

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"They were inseparable. Benny would ring up every now and then to ask about Beeba. In fact, he called on that terrible day, while he was on the train, asking if he should buy anything for Beeba on his way back. The train had just passed Marine Lines station. That was the last time I heard his voice," remembers Mariamma in quiet sadness.

Beeba lives with her grandparents and uncle in a two-bedroom rented home in Bhayandar, a satellite town north of Mumbai. She misses those days with her father at her side. They often took short walks around the neighbourhood.

"Papa was the best," Beeba says. "Achachan (grandfather) is the second best. I love them both."

K M Joseph, Beeba's grandfather, runs a modest grocery shop on Navgarh road in Bhayander. He is not comfortable speaking Hindi like his wife.

"Benny was our translator and pillar of strength. We are almost helpless without him. But we cling on hopefully for Beeba's sake. She doesn't have anyone else except us."

Benny was divorced when Beeba was four months old. Joseph says Benny's former wife works in the Middle East. Benny, his father says, hoped she would return some day and Beeba would have the company of both her parents.

"Beeba is a very bright child. She has tremendous potential and composure compared to other kids her age," says Leelamma Shibu, her home tutor. "Though she seems an introvert at the first encounter, she is very friendly and fun-loving once she feels comfortable in someone's company."

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"She sometimes brings the house down with her antics. I think it is good she is scared of me. Both her grandfather and uncle always dance to her tune," says Mariamma.

A Class 3 student at the St Aloysius School, Bhayander, Beeba maintains her grades.

"Initially," says Reji Joseph, Benny's younger brother, "Beeba felt very depressed. She was down and out whenever her friends talked about their parents and the things their parents did for them. But now she is quite okay with it."

Text and photograph: Binoy Valsan. Image: from left, Mariamma Joseph, Beeba, K M Joseph, Reji Joseph

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