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Mute spectators at telephone booths

Last updated on: August 25, 2003 20:18 IST

Karim Khan and Vandana Nikalje, public phone booth operators at St George Hospital, saw their business rising over 100 per cent in two hours on August 25. But they were not thrilled.

"From 2 pm I am hearing people wail and narrate stories of death, destruction and misery. I have heard nearly 100 such stories since late afternoon," Nikalje said.

She was referring to the death and destruction caused by a car bomb in Kalbadevi in the afternoon. As people killed and maimed in the blast began streaming into the hospital, the crowd at Khan and Nikalje's booth grew bigger and bigger.

Karim Khan, known as Mamu in the hospital, said he had never seen so much pain before in his life. "For the first time  I am feeling bad when I am doing well in business. I had not heard such horror stories in my sixty years of life. A woman calls her mother-in-law to say that her son is no more...a man calls his mother and says her son is dead."

Both Nikalje and Khan cursed 'the government' for 'shutting down' the mobile network in the city immediately after the blasts.

At the time of filing this report, it was still not clear whether the network was shut or it collapsed because of overloading.

"I saw people crying when they were not able to get through to the people they were calling," Nikalje said.

She heard the blast because the blast site in Kalbadevi is not very far from the hospital. "First I thought it was a cracker...but as injured people began coming in, I knew something terrible had happened," she said.

"I saw a woman being brought on a stretcher...she had lost her leg. I just can't forget the sight. It was very painful. I only hope that Ganesh Chaturthi passes off peacefully," she added.

Both Khan and Nikalje also saw how rumours spread in an hour of crisis. "People were calling from my booth and saying there has been a blast at Marine Lines or Bandra or Andheri or Victoria Terminus. They had no definite information...but I guess this is what happens when panic strikes. God alone knows where the blasts had taken place...but I was reduced to a silent spectator," Khan said.

"I was told that there is a blast near Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus bus stop, which is 200 metres away from this phone booth. If that was true, how come we didn't hear anything?" asked Nikalje.
 
Both agreed that almost all victims were very poor people.

Pointing towards some tired, forelorn faces in the courtyard of the hospital, Khan said: "Look at these people. They have lost their sons, daughters, parents...they have been sitting there for at least a couple of hours weeping continuously. God alone knows what these terrorists get by killing innocent people."

More eyewitness accounts:

'Should've worn shoes'

Around me were blackened bodies'

'Thought it was a grenade'

Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai