‘Hurry up, we’re getting late.’
‘Can’t you wait a second? Let me lock the door.’
Sahana gazed at her brother Ashish and then at her watch. ‘There is still time’, she reasoned, ‘unless the traffic gives too much trouble…’
‘Haan saab, where do you want to go?’
‘Churchgate railway station and make it quick.’
He drove at full speed, cruising expertly through the traffic. Ashish grinned to himself as the driver swore when a vehicle came in his way, something all taxi drivers did.
As they finally reached the station Sahana heaved a sigh of relief. She had clung on to the seat for dear life as the taxi flew on the road. She gingerly got out and adjusted her dress as Ashish paid the driver.
The evening crowd was still accumulating at the station. There was time for her train to arrive.
‘I called Daddy and told him you’d come in the evening.’
‘Oh, ya, I’d for forgotten that.’
‘Hm, nothing unusual’, he remarked dryly.
‘Thank God, my boss gave me leave today.’
‘Ya, you know what….’
They sat around for a few more minutes, making light conversation.
‘There’s my train.’
She boarded the train and waved to her brother. After the train left the station, he slowly walked back to the nearest taxi.
She kept her small traveling bag by her feet and settled down. For a few minutes, she looked at the houses whiz by before reaching for a book from her bag. She soon got bored and started observing her fellow passengers. A mother and her child (she put his age at about 10 years) caught her attention. He was eagerly telling his mother about Superman’s latest movie and she wore the expression of one who had heard it quite a few times before.
‘You know, superman goes vroooooom’, he finished with adequate special effects. Sahana called him. ‘Have you read the Harry Potter books?’ she knew it was one of the best openings of conversation with a kid. It had rarely failed her.
‘Ya, he said, his eyes shining. ‘Do you know his Firebolt is the fastest? Its acceleration is…’
Before she had obtained that particular statistic from him she heard a loud sound and simultaneously everything went black.
As he climbed the stairs leading to his cramped 2-bedroom apartment, he thought about Sahana; how she had longed to work with him in the city. It had hardly been a month and she had already begun to feel homesick. ‘Women’, he muttered to himself. He suddenly realized that it had been just a few minutes since she had gone and he was already missing her usual banter.
As he was opening the door, his neighbour called him.
‘Have you seen the news? It’s horrible, just like ’93.’
‘No, I just came from the station.’
‘What? Did you go to leave someone? Was it Sahana? Oh shit, there have been bomb blasts on trains. See?’
His heart skipped a beat. Trembling slightly, he stepped into his neighbour’s house and peered at the television. His worst fears were confirmed. It was indeed the train Sahana had been on.
‘Ashish, hey, Sahana’s ok, na?’
Somehow, he managed to say, ‘No, I’m not sure. I hope so’ before dragging his feet downstairs and onto the road.
His thoughts were getting entwined with each other. Memories seemed to be doing a fast paced dance in his mind. Everything was going twice as fast. He could see her laughing yesterday and suddenly jumping out at him from behind a tree when she was 12… He pushed his thoughts aside, knowing he had to act calmly. For the second time in the day, he hailed a taxi.
‘Take me to Churchgate, no, where the first blast has taken place.’
‘That was between Khar and Santa Cruz stations, no?’
‘Ya, ya, just drive fast’
As he was driving, he asked, ‘Someone you knew was on the train?’
‘Huh? Ya, my sister.’
‘Don’t worry, Inshallah, she will be fine.’
He reached the spot where the disaster had taken place. Refusing money, the taxi driver said, ‘Don’t worry, Allah will find your sister for you.’
He reeled in horror at the sight that greeted his eyes. He could see mangled bodies covered in blood. Fighting the wave of nausea that came over him and avoiding the thought that his sister was one of them he addressed the person standing next to him.
‘Where are the survivors?’
‘I don’t know, most of them have been taken to local hospitals.’
With increasing terror and desperation he inspected the bodies lying before him. When he had seen the last of them, he felt weary with relief. ‘At least, I have hope’, he thought.
All of a sudden, he remembered that she had a cell phone. He almost went mad as he heard, ‘The number you have dialed is currently unavailable. Please try after some time.’
How he managed to visit so many hospitals and check the patients, he didn’t know. He took a lift, walked, sat on a pillion, hailed an auto, a taxi, and went from hospital to hospital. At last, he could search no more. His throat was dry and he felt weak with exhaustion. He went into a small hotel nearby and sank into a seat. He ordered some food and thought about his parents, ‘How anxious they must be’. The full weight of the day’s incidents came down upon him and he laid his head on the table.
A few minutes later when the waiter came to give the bill he found Ashish sound asleep. Having heard the full story of his day, the waiter felt pity on him. He told the owner of the hotel and they agreed he was best left undisturbed.
He woke up in the morning to the latest film’s tune from his mobile. Picking it up, he said, ‘Hello’.
‘Hello, are you Ashish? Sahana’s brother?’
‘ya, is she ok? Where are you calling from?’ he said sharply.
‘I’m calling from a hospital. Please come quickly. We tried a lot to call you on your cell phone but couldn’t reach you. Please come soon.
‘Tell me, is she fine?’
‘Sort of, she’s out of danger now.’
He felt dizzy with happiness. ‘Give me the address; I’ll be there in a minute.’
He rushed out and caught a taxi. ‘Meena nursing home’, he read as he stood in front of a small, old-looking building. He went in. A man of about 45 called him, ‘Are you Ashish?’
‘Ya, you’re the one who called me? Where’s Sahana?
As they walked, he told Ashish that he was a taxi driver. He had come forward to help the victims and had carried Sahana and two other people to his taxi. He had driven towards a nursing home whose owner he knew. It wasn’t a big place, not well-known, yet functional.
This had to be the one place I didn’t search’, Ashish thought.
When he saw Sahana, he stood still for a moment. He was relieved beyond words to see her alive but horrified at the state she was in. One side of her face was badly wounded; she was covered in bandages and seemed to be in great pain.
He moved forward and hugged her, tears running down his face. All his pent-up feelings broke loose and he cried like a child.
‘How are you?’
‘Fine. And how are you?
He laughed in spite of the situation, probably out of pure relief.
‘What did the doctors say?’
‘I’m ok; out of danger.’
He sat down beside her bed. Suddenly, the faces of all the people he had seen in the hospitals he had visited came into view. The thought of their haggard and desperate expressions made him wonder about their fates. He knew that not all of them had been as lucky as him. It had been a black Tuesday for many. His heart went out to them. He kneeled down and said a silent prayer, thanking Him for his sister and asking Him to save the others.
(This story is a tribute to all those Mumbaikars who came forward to help the injured on July 11, 2006 when Mumbai was rocked by 7 blasts, all on trains. They were there to help the victims, providing whatever they could- water, food, bed sheets to carry the injured, etc. They bridged the gap between the time of the accidents and the government’s arrival. Telephones (cell phones too) didn’t work when they were needed most due to excess communication which jammed the networks.)