Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com
A teenager painstakingly builds a new life after a tragedy that may have befallen any Mumbaikar. Vaihayasi Pande Daniel meets Monica More who has captured Mumbai's hearts with her extraordinary courage.
She is all of 16.
That is an age when most teenagers you know own fingers that have a special rocking teen life of their own.
Those superfast fingers spend all their time flying across the keypads of their phones -- WhatsApping two dozen friends at the same time, posting selfies, forwarding posts, checking Instagram, FB, songs, caller tunes or playing games.
Monica More sits in her hospital bed at the KEM hospital, central Mumbai, a blanket wrapped around her upper torso.
Her phone rests on the mattress in front of her. She stares down at it. A college friend is sending messages on WhatsApp for her.
It is going to be a long while before Monica can get back to being that teen again.
She doesn't have any fingers any more.
Monica lost not just her fingers, but both her arms at the Ghatkopar station, north-east Mumbai, on January 11, near about 2 pm, when she fell off a packed suburban train, into a yawning gap between the platform and the train bogey.
The More family live in Nehru Nagar, Kurla, north-east Mumbai. Monica's father Ashok works at a travel agency. Her mother Kavita is a housewife and her kid brother Kartik, 13, studies at the S K P Walawalkar High School, Kurla.
Monica had only recently begun college, at the SNDT campus, in Ghatkopar. She is in first year junior college -- studying commerce and starting to like a few of her subjects, like book-keeping.
Other than college, friends and getting a career, life revolved around Hindi films, Bollywood dancing, decorating her hands with mehndi. And Shahid Kapoor, her favourite film actor, Monica confesses shyly.
It was something of an upheaval for the More household to figure out how Monica was going to get to college.
Till then she had only traveled by bus or rickshaw, since school was nearby, but her new college was further away.
To catch a bus to SNDT she would have had to cross the busy main highway, at Kurla, to get to the bus stop and Kavita More was not keen on that.
Distances were also longer by bus -- 45 minutes. It was decided that Monica would need to take the train every day to get to SNDT.
Kavita travelled with Monica every day for ten days, teaching her how to catch the right train and board safely.
Boarding a train in Mumbai is a complex and daredevil act. Those who commute daily can, with a practised eye, figure out how many trains to miss -- one train three minutes, two trains six minutes -- till you know which train is a safe bet to board.
Trains are so dangerously packed -- and getting worse each day -- that a slight miscalculation can be lethal.
Says Kavita, "She told me, 'I have learned. Now you don't have to come and drop me'." But ten days of Kavita's coaching, and the experience Monica subsequently gained, was not enough.
Monica made a fatal error boarding her train that Saturday.
Did her error match the consequences?
Can life be so tough in Mumbai that a single misstep by a student boarding a train for college could have had such a tragic impact on her life?
Yes, because Mumbai's local trains are the most overcrowded in the world with up to 16 people trying to fit in one square metre of floor space during the worst hours of the day.
'She is a himmatwali'
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com
Surprisingly, Monica More, or her family, do not harbour much bitterness at the system.
They simply express despair at the sudden stroke of fate that saw Monica pushed out of an overcrowded train.
Monica sits on her KEM hospital bed, beaming sunny smiles, sometimes gurgling with laughter, as she speaks, occasionally gritting her teeth at the pain radiating from her tortured bandaged stumps.
She does not want to recount again what happened that day. She does not remember how she fell and was unconscious immediately thereafter. Her mother fills in the painful details.
She was boarding the second class compartment of the train with friends and was the last to board.
"There was a lot of crowd that day. She gave two trains a miss and then took the third. She had her hand on the handle. But she was not given enough space to get in. There was a dhakka (a surge that resulted in a push) and she fell out. There was a khadda (gap) in the platform. She fell in. If there not been a khadda, she would have fallen on the platform."
Monica fell head first, into the tracks, her arms went first. Someone pulled the chain and brought the train to a stop.
Two brothers, Amjad and Nasim Chaudhary, who were traveling in the third compartment from hers, heard that a girl had gone under the tracks and rushed to courageously pull her out and retrieve her left hand.
The left hand was wrapped in a cloth provided by a commuter. Her right hand was still narrowly attached and was tied up in a handkerchief.
The young men found Ashok More's phone number on her college ID in Monica's bag. He and his wife rushed to the hospital. Says Kavita sorrowfully, "The station had no ambulance. No doctor. No arrangements of any sort."
Monica, and her severed hand, were rushed in an autorickshaw to the Rajawadi hospital in Ghatkopar. She was then transferred to the KEM hospital, well-known for its limb re-attachment procedures.
Says Kavita, "They said udhar haath lag jayega (the hand will be attached there) so we went there by ambulance." But the family reached the KEM hospital beyond 4 pm, more than two hours after her accident. Re-attaching her arms was not an option anymore.
The nightmarish tragedy that befell the Mumbai teenager made national headlines. Television cameras and reporters have been pouring into Ward 46 for days. The Mores' relatives in far-flung parts of Maharashtra got to hear of the accident and flocked to Mumbai. Relatives mill in and out of her room at the hospital.
Help and some money have come in. The Mores cannot count the number of interviews she has given to the media.
Has her idol Shahid Kapoor visited her?
"What's the need for that? She is a bigger star," her friends say. Monica smiles.
The heroes who rescued her -- Nasim, 24, and Amjad, 23 -- have come by to visit Monica several times.
Says Kavita, "When I met them, I touched their feet."
She has good reason to.
'She is a himmatwali'
Photographs: Kind courtesy: The More family
When the train that ran over Monica's arms came to a screeching halt, no one was willing to retrieve her from underneath its wheels.
Nasim, who started work at DHL Logistics three months ago, post graduation, had the presence of mind, and courage, that no one else had on the platform that day, to lift her out and carry her on his shoulder out of the station and rush her to the hospital.
"I kept shouting to the crowd, asking someone to bring her samaan (bag etc). But no one came forward. Maybe they were scared of getting involved, not knowing the consequences," Nasim remembers.
"Finally I told my brother (Amjad is a student at Jhunjhunwala College, also located in Ghatkopar; the brothers live at Saki Naka, north-west Mumbai) to pick up her stuff. She was bleeding badly and my white shirt was blood-soaked."
KEM hospital Dean Dr Shubhangi Parkar explains that for Monica to get the best prosthetic limbs, that will allow her maximum hand coordination but maybe not the ability to wield a pen, the Mores need to collect upwards of Rs 60 lakhs (Rs 6 million). At the moment the family is woefully short of that figure.
"She is a very sweet and brave," says Dr Parkar who is especially impressed with Monica.
Says Kavita, "The dean likes her smile. Says she is a himmatwali. She says Monica is very tough and has tremendous energy. She regained consciousness soon after the accident." When they reached KEM they told her she had lost her hands.
Initially Monica felt it was a brutal nightmare from which she would awake. She prayed that it might be a horrifying dream because she wondered what she had done or whom she had harmed to deserve this fate.
Continuing her studies has become a matter of even higher priority for Monica and her family. After a few days of terrible gloom, during which she wondered if she would ever have a career, Monica has fiercely found the determination to get back on her feet.
Says Kavita, "She needs to study well and get a good job, maybe working on a computer or become a CA (chartered accountant). The college has said they will give her a writer for her exams. They have said she will be able to graduate. When she gets new hands she will be able to write herself."
When Monica does return to college, Kavita plans to drop her there every day by bus. They will no longer take the train.
It will take nearly two months for Monica to get back even a ghost of a semblance of her old life. The healing of her stubs is not yet complete.
The appropriate prosthetic limbs need to be procured -- as per the funds the Mores succeed in patching together -- and fitted and Monica will have to gain some experience in using them.
Monica is not home safe yet.
But she has a life.
The Mores need to collect many lakhs of rupees before Monica can embark on her new life.
At the moment everything is on pause as the result of an accident that could have happened to any Mumbaikar.
Monica More is Mumbai's victim.
A victim of the stress of living in this often brutal city.
Her white bandaged stumps are wounds to Mumbai's spirit.
If you would like to financially help Monica, here are the bank account details:
Account name: Ashok Baban More
A/c number: 121401503141
Tilak Nagar branch,
IFSC Code: ICIC0001214.
Her father, Ashok More, can be contacted on +91-9930009003. You may also write to the Dean, KEM Hospital, Acharya Donde Marg, Parel, Mumbai 400012. India.