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The 11/7 blast trains, a year later
July 11, 2007
The 5:19 Virar fast
The electronic signboard changes from V 05:18 F 01 to V 05:19 F 00.
Virar 607 Down, the fast local train from Churchgate to Mumbai's northernmost local train stop which leaves the south Mumbai terminus at 5:19 pm, pulls out of the platform.
On July 11, 2006, too, the train left on time. But it never reached Virar. At 6.29 pm, when the train was between Mira Road and Bhayander, a blast ripped through a first class coach of the train, killing many.
Suresh Panchar runs in from the opposite direction, turns to align himself with the train and hoists himself in a couple of quick steps.
Finding a seat, he sits and promptly looks under the seat to check for unidentified objects.
Coverage: Mumbai's 11/7, a year after
He then crosses his chest and kisses his right forefinger. Catching his breath, he says, "Usually, I board the first class coach at the front of the train. On July 11 last year, for some reason I felt uncomfortable and chose the coach at the rear of the train."
On Wednesday too, Panchar, a 45-year-old sales manager at Nico Orgo Manures, went up till the front first class coach and then decided to take the rear coach, just like that Tuesday.
That's what terrorism does to you.
"Every day for the past one year, we -- my friends and I -- check under the seats and the overhead racks for any suspicious objects. Most people laugh at us, make fun of us. So we don't think much of their looks and comments," Panchar says.
He feels that most people who were alert for the initial months after the blasts have slackened. "All the passengers were checking under the seats and questioning strangers. But these days, they go off to sleep as soon as they sink into their seats. But knowing well that what we do could one day save their lives too, we just can't stop checking," he says.
Mohan Banu Sharma, 52, and 38-year-old Manoj Rathore -- both of whom are regular passengers of the train -- are among those who are resigned to their fate.
"What is the point in checking for suspicious baggage? If something has to happen, it will happen," Sharma says.
While Sharma maintains things have not changed in the past year, Rathore says that Mumbai is a slightly safer place than what it was. "I agree they don't check each and everyone who gets into the station, but don't you think the policemen posted at the entrance would act as some kind of deterrence? Likewise, while they may not go out of their way to check that their surroundings are clean, they would still react if they see anything overtly suspicious," Rathore says.
For 43-year-old cutlery businessman Viresh Trivedi, nothing matters. "Everyone was alert for only a few days. Now everything is back to normal. The police at the entrance of the stations don't check anybody and the trains are not checked. That time the bomb was placed in the overhead racks. What if the next time it is under the train? Who has the time to check every train that leaves Churchgate? Or what if the bomb is in a train coming from Virar? Anything can happen. It's not in our hands."
Text: Krishnakumar | Photograph: N V Reuben