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The 11/7 blast trains, a year later
July 11, 2007
The 5:26 Borivali Fast
As the 5.26 Borivali local pulls away from Churchgate, I look around at faces that have replaced faces from a year ago. It is an unusually moving moment. To think about those whose lives were so cruelly wrenched from them, to imagine their thoughts that rainy evening, is poignant. Did they think of their children? Or a hot bath? A cuddle with their wives?
The man beside me opens his copy of Mid-Day, turning to a report about how bombs can now be made for a measly Rs 200. I ask if this is his regular train. And if he knows how significant this particular commute is. He tells me the television crews at Churchgate were a reminder. But, turning back to his newspaper, he informs me that life waits for no one.
Rajiv Shukla, 28, who works with a bank at Nariman Point, sits across me and smiles as he hears our conversation. "There is nothing that can be done," he says, compelled by violence to turn to philosophy in his youth.
Explosions never really go away in a hurry. For weeks on end, they frighten citizens while they sleep. Ears prick up. Hearts flutter. Palpitations commence. For weeks on end, stores selling fireworks sit still, their doors never darkened by customers in search of anything capable of holding a pinch of gunpowder.
When a bomb goes off in a city, the ripple of chaos it creates reverberates long after the shrieks have died out. Bags are no longer innocent receptacles. Packages are scrutinised from all sides. Public modes of transport lose the air of friendly banter that -� during non-peak hours -� often surrounds them. There are no longer friendly smiles in crowded train compartments. No good-natured sharing of space. No helpful hands reaching for heavy suitcases that are then carried, like plastic rock stars, across rows of faces to overhead shelves.
When a bomb goes off in a city, it stuns that city's soul into submission.
The first time a bomb went off, in my lifetime, I was a year shy of 20. The last time one went off, I was weeks away from 30. Both events book-ended a gruesome chapter in the history of my beautiful city, Mumbai; one that saw it lose its sense of vitality and move down the path to indifference -� something many of the world's amazing cities have long succumbed to.
I remember a particular journey by train my 20-year-old self once took, from one junction in Mumbai to another. The compartment was teeming, as usual. Men of all ages swore under their breath, waiting for the train to move. When it finally jolted free, one man's eyes went up to a briefcase that lay innocuously atop one of the shelves. 'Is it yours?' he asked the person beside him. It wasn't. As the train picked up speed, he kept checking, row by row, patience giving way to exasperation. When he received no answer, he pulled down the briefcase and pushed it out of the window. Mission accomplished, he sat back in satisfaction.
Then came a loud shout from the nearest exit: 'AEhhhhhhhhh! Kisne kiya yeh?' It was the owner of the briefcase who, hidden from view, had not been questioned. While the rest of us laughed -� mirth always seems exaggerated after moments of anxiety -� our co-passenger was forced to step off at the next stop, and walk back in search of the briefcase.
In a simpler time, luggage would never warrant such attention.
A little after 6 pm a year ago, between Bandra and Khar, the heart of the first class compartment of the 5.26 local tore open, the light flooding in. As our train makes its way past this bloody point, things stay the same. My co-passengers read, doze, play cards, stare vacantly. We have been cursed with the ability to quickly forget.
How can one ever come to terms with what happened to those unfortunate people on July 11, 2006? Did they know death waited in silent ambush, 45 minutes away? Did the hearts of their loved ones skip a beat at that precise moment when they stopped breathing?
No, not all explosions delight. Some change the face of cities, and all who choose to live out their lives in them. As the train rolls towards Borivali at 6.20, the faces around me betray nothing. A few heads nod in sleep. It's just another evening in Mumbai. Outside, a quiet rain begins to fall.
Text and photograph: Lindsay Pereira