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Rediff.com  » News » 13/7 widow struggles to survive in 'killer city'

13/7 widow struggles to survive in 'killer city'

July 11, 2012 11:05 IST

It's been a year since three blasts ripped through crowded localities of Mumbai, killing 26 people and injuring 130. A year on, Rediff.com's Abhishek Mande walks down the memory lane with survivors and re-live the fateful July 13 evening that was smeared with blood, agony and fear.

Mankeshwar Vishwakarma went to Dadar to buy material for a new carpentry job he'd been assigned. He never returned home.

What can you say about the dead? That they were responsible and loving and caring; that they were ambitious; that they dreamt of making it big and giving their family a better life? And that they are now no more.

Mankeshwar Vishwakarma died on July 26, 2011, exactly 13 days after he was walking down S K Bole Road along the Dr Antonio Da Silva High School in Dadar (W). What happened on that day has been well-documented.

A series of coordinated explosions across three locations in Mumbai on July 13 injured 130 people and killed 26 others. When he breathed his last in Mumbai's King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mankeshwar Vishwakarma became number 24 of 26.

***

As television channels broke news of the blasts, Rinku was where she always had been -- her home. She remembers her daughter Soni who was then all of 18 months pointing to the television. At first she didn't pay attention and went about her chores.

Then a neighbour arrived unannounced, as they always do in chawls and Rinku turned up the volume. She knew her husband was in Dadar buying ply for his next job but it would be a while before she would remember that. By the time she tried to reach out to him, the mobile networks had been jammed.

She waited. Like many of us, she never thought her husband would be one of the victims. Sure he was in the area but what were the odds that he'd be hurt? The thought never really occurred to her, not consciously at least. Yet she kept trying his number from time to time.

At last she got through. But it wasn't him; the voice didn't sound familiar. "Aap Mankeshwar Vishwakarma ko janti hain? (Do you know Mankeshwar Vishwakarma?)" the man on the other end asked.

"Main unki aurat hoon!" (I am his wife), she answered.

"KEM aa jao." Come by to KEM (Hospital) the voice instructed her.

Rinku put the phone down and asked her neighbour: "KEM kahan hai?" (Where is KEM?)

In the four years that she'd been in the city, Rinku had never gone beyond the local grocery store by herself. Like the wives of thousands of immigrant labourers, Rinku too never had to leave her home for anything. 

Her husband made enough for them to survive. He worked hard; he loved their daughter Soni and wanted her to go to an English-medium school. 

Once he even promised Rinku that they wouldn't have to live in a rented room all their lives and that he'd buy one for them.

"He had big dreams," Rinku tells me in Hindi, the only language she speaks and understands. "And now…" the sentence remains incomplete.

***

Ironically, it was in the same month four years ago that Rinku landed in Mumbai from her native village in Uttar Pradesh.

It was July 7, 2008 a date she tells me she'll never forget. "My brother and I arrived at Kurla station. He (Mankeshwar) came to pick me up there. It was raining that day. He brought us home. That evening, he went out and bought groceries and he set up my samaan at home." And just like that, the little one-room apartment in the city, became Rinku's home.

As days passed, a wide-eyed Rinku would follow her husband as he took her around the city that he had made his home over 14 years ago. They would go to parks and malls and gardens and once, just once they even saw the IMAX dome from the outside.

Riku delivered a baby girl and the three lived a content life, cut away from his parents with whom he was no longer on talking terms.

She didn't care; Rinku was happy in her cocoon.

Then 13/7 happened. 

***

The 12 days that followed were a blur. For most part of the day, she would be at the hospital. In the nights she would go home only to return the next morning.

Read: Scarred by the blasts: Tale of two wives

On the morning of July 26, Rinku woke up with a bad feeling. Out of habit, she called up on her father-in-law's mobile number who had come to see him and stayed back that night.

He answered the phone. Rinku remembers him saying 'Sab khatam ho gaya' (It's all over). 

***

Soon after Mankeshwar died, Rinku's in-laws left too. "They didn't want to have anything to do with me or my daughter," Rinku says.

So at 26, having seen practically little or nothing of the big city and with barely any education, Rinku Vishwakarma was left to fend for herself.

She went back to her parents who stay in Siswa Pandey village in Deoria district in eastern Uttar Pradesh. A month later she returned.

By now, she even had a job waiting for her. A Good Samaritan who'd met her in the hospital and managed to get her hired in the Mumbai office of Equus, a prominent advertising agency.

Suddenly, a woman who hadn't travelled more than 100 meters from her house was travelling 10 km one way to work. 

"At first, I found it difficult. I didn't know how I would manage," she tells me.

At Equus, she works as an office help, cleaning the office space and serving tea to its employees.

Pragya Bali who heads the Mumbai office, describes Rinku as being 'on the quieter side'. 

"She doesn't talk a lot. But in the nine months that she's worked here, she's opened up considerably," she tells me as Rinku sits across from us, quiet and morose. "There are days when she is really down, like today. Her daughter doesn't keep too well. That gets her worked up. Recently, she wasn't feeling very well too. We tried to talk her into getting remarried but she isn't open to the idea."

I turn to her and ask her in Hindi if she's considered remarrying. Rinku continues looking at her feet. 

***

Rinku Vishwakarma is a little unclear about her finances and mumbled something about Rs 1.5 lakh in her daughter's name as fixed deposit. She makes Rs 5,000 each month but says her expenses come to Rs 15,000. Each month she dips into the compensation the government has given her. She doesn't seem to know how much money she has in her account. When she'd got a compensation cheque, she had no idea how to encash it. Rinku didn't even have a bank account.

***

Later, Rinku tells me she is done with the city. She says she's struggled really hard to stay here but she simply cannot manage. A few months ago, she invited one of her nieces and her brother to the city so they could take care of her daughter. Her brother continues to remain unemployed and spends the days at home watching television.

Having few options, Rinku says she'd be happier at her parents' home in Uttar Pradesh where she hopes she'll have their security and support. She isn't sure about what she'll do there but she knows that the one place she doesn't want to be in is the city that took her husband away.

So she has informed her bosses that she won't be with them next month. Her last day at Equus is July 25, after which Rinku Vishwakarma will pack her bags take her daughter and go back to the village she was born in.

Image: Rinku at the Equus office

Photograph: Abhishek Mande

Abhishek Mande in Mumbai