In the 47 years since I was born, that day has left a permanent imprint on my mind. 7/11, as it is known in common parlance – or 11th July 2006.
Till that day I had lived a typical middle-class life in the city of Mumbai. Or rather, in the far-flung suburb of Mumbai, Bhayander. My Aai (mother) was a housewife and my late father used to work in a manufacturing firm as a supervisor. He used to earn enough to give a decent education to me and my elder brother, Suresh. Oh, did I not tell you my name? I am Prashant, Prashant Dalvi.
After completing my education, I started working as a Sales representative with one of the major builders, M/s. Kripalani & Sons. That was in 2003, and as soon as I was made permanent by them, my parents started looking for a match for me. And that’s how I met and married, Pranati in May 2005.
11th July 2006. The day started like any other, with me getting ready to leave for work. As usual, Pranati and my mother got up very early, so that they could prepare my breakfast and lunch and make it ready in time for me to leave at 8.30 am. sharp.
“Try to come early today. I will prepare Shrikhand in the evening for you,” Pranati enticed me lovingly, a smile adorning her face.
“Homemade Shrikhand? What’s the occasion? Anyone coming home from your village?” I teased her.
“Shut up, Prashant. Why are you always teasing her?” my Aai admonished me.
Then with a smile, she added, “You are going to become a father, Prashant. And I will be aaji (grandmother).” I could literally feel the excitement in her voice.
Leaving the newspaper I was reading, with a broad smile on my face, I rushed towards Pranati and lifted her up. Giggling hysterically, Pranati pleaded with me, “Oh, what are you doing? What will Aai say? Lower me please.”
“I am taking leave today. I am so happy; I just don’t feel like going to the office. We will go to some hotel to celebrate.”
But Pranati was quick to counter me, “Don’t act childish. You will soon have more mouths to feed. You have just been promoted on your job. The celebration can wait until the weekend. Now go!” as she handed over my tiffin box to me and pushed me playfully towards the door.
“And don’t forget your first class pass. Last Friday you forgot and were so tired when you were back home,” my mother reminded me.
When I was promoted just a month back, I was entitled to a first-class train pass, and the most excited person was my Aai. After all, now her son’s daily train travel was going to be comfortable…or so she thought…
With a heavy heart, I left my home for the office.
During the lunch hour my colleague, Ramesh Parab remarked, “Wah, Prashant bhau, you seem extra enthusiastic today. I see a spring in your step.”
“Ramesh, I really admire your observation power. Yes, I am very happy today. My wife is expecting,” I smiled back at him.
“Oh hooo…congratulations my friend. This calls for a big party. Come on, when will you treat me,” pestered Ramesh.
“Only after the little one comes into our house”, I said. But Ramesh didn’t listen. He kept pestering me for a party throughout the day. If only I had listened to him…but that was not to be.
In the evening, looking forward to the feast awaiting me at home, I rushed to catch the 6.04 pm. train at Churchgate station.
As I ran through the station to catch the train I saw that it was mostly full. Getting into the first class compartment, I grabbed a place to stand near to a window, between the opposite seats. Since most of the overhead luggage rack was almost full, I fitted my bag between two square boxes.
The train finally left the station and I surrendered to my regular pass time of observing the passengers, trying to find familiar faces to talk to. The local trains of Mumbai have a unique ability to forge relationships and friendships with the regular travelers.
Diagonally opposite to me stood Mr. Batliwala a jolly man in his fifties. “Hello, Peston kaka. Sab majaa ma…,” I queried.
“Arre Prashant dikra, Su che…how is everybody at home? Your honeymoon period is over or not?” Mr. Batliwala had that ability to embarrass you in front of total strangers.
Hearing Mr. Batliwala’s baritone, Mr. Mehta, who had remained hidden till now interjected, “Peston kaka, this Prashant is a real Chupa Rustom. He is enjoying the honeymoon at home as well as in the office.”
I smiled to myself. Only Mehta uncle had that unique ability to tell totally false stories with conviction. Not for nothing, he was a life insurance agent with a side interest in the stock market.
Sitting nearby was a family which must have taken a holiday to roam around South Mumbai since the child was excitedly talking about the Old Lady Shoe at Malabar hills.
“Baba, was the old grandmother a giant? How is the shoe so big? And it was so brightly colored …why are my shoes only in black color?” innocent questions of an innocent child.
“Radhika….,” but before the father could finish, came the daughter’s demand, “I too want a similar shoe, baba,” then turning to her mother, she pleaded, “Aai, tell baba to buy me a similar….,” but before she could finish the sentence…
A deafening explosion overwhelmed the entire running universe in the train. I remember being thrown like a rag doll to the other side of the compartment, my head hitting the window rods, the darkness enveloping me, as I blacked out…
A stabbing pain in my chest woke me up. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could only see a gaping huge hole in the side of the train where I had been standing. The steel was shredded like paper. The mangled remains of human limbs lay scattered everywhere.
The family was nowhere to be seen. Then in the darkness, I saw the bloodstained yellow frock…a budding life cruelly snuffed out.
The body of Mr. Mehta lay nearby, lying on other unfortunate souls. Mr. Batliwala sat stunned, his face blackened, his eyes staring blankly ahead.
The people living in the slums lining the railway tracks were in the forefront of rescuing the passengers. I felt a few hands picking me up, but the excruciating chest pain and throbbing headache made me lose my consciousness again.
When I opened my eyes again I saw the white ceiling. I could make out that I was in a hospital since I could hear the constant beep-beep of various monitors. I tried to move my head but couldn’t. There was no strength in my hands and legs. Helplessly I lay there and listened since that was the only thing I could manage.
I heard the moans and screams of others. “Sister, come fast. I can see his eyes fluttering”, cried out a woman’s voice. Then I saw a face peering into my eyes. It was Pranati, my wife. I tried to speak but nothing escaped my lips.
A woman in a white dress came and peered into my eyes. “No, there is no response. You are mistaken but keep the faith. He has survived and that’s a miracle in itself. I understand he was very near to the bomb when it went off”
Why is she saying that there is no response? I can see her. Is it because I am unable to blink at her? …so many thoughts crossed my mind.
“How is my child?”
Aai!! My Aai is here. I was desperate to see her. But I couldn’t turn to see her!
“Aai, please come here and look into his eyes”, said Pranati. “The sister says there is no response. But at least his eyes are open. Maybe he can see you”
Aai looked into my eyes. Aai…
“Oh, he spoke…he said Aai”, the tears pouring from her eyes falling on my face. Pranati held Aai as she broke down.
“Please gather yourself, Aai. It’s been 15 days since the bombings and Doctor says that the road to recovery is long. We cannot allow ourselves to be broken so easily. We have to be strong for him, fight with him…” Tears were streaming down my wife’s face too.
But I was happy. Lying there, immobile, I was happy that Aai had heard me….
“See Prashant, the kind sister has brought your medicine. Come, sit up,” and so saying Pranati raised one side of the hospital bed. She placed the tablets, one at a time on my tongue and held the glass to my lips, for me to swallow them.
Since the few days since I had finally regained consciousness, I had progressed well. I was able to move my neck and use my hands though they still shook. Unfortunately, I was still not able to stand or walk.
It was routine for my Aai and Pranati to take turns to be with me in the hospital. Pranati made it a routine to read me the morning newspaper. Though she made sure to read mostly the sports page and mainly the cricket news since that had always been my passion. She avoided the front page to keep me away from the political news.
And Aai usually read me the scriptures which gave her peace. Her favorite was the Ramcharitramanas. Watching her read gave me a different kind of peace and I looked forward to these episodes with her.
During all this time the Doctors were constantly working on my health. My broken ribs (which gave me the chest pain) were mostly healed but the head injuries were grave and which actually caused the violent shaking of my hands and the crippling of the legs.
Since the last few days, I could see that Pranati was in great discomfort since she was approaching the full term of her pregnancy.
“Place your hands on my tummy. Can you feel the baby inside?” so saying, she took my hands in hers, a smile dancing on her face, as she placed them on her tummy.
I did not feel anything but I wanted to force a smile on my face but to no avail. Pranati could not judge my happiness or otherwise but she still smiled…
Pranati had not come to visit me for three weeks. Then one day…
Pranati entered the hospital room, a wide smile on her face, a small bundle in her arms. She sat beside me, turned the bundle around…a pair of crinkly eyes still closed, the wisp of hair on the head…then this bundle was placed near me.
I don’t know what happened but tears started streaming down from my eyes, as I touched my little girl with my shaking hands. That day I just could not stop crying; my mother embraced me to calm me.
I am told, that day the sisters and the Doctors present on the floor couldn’t control their emotions…
It had been 3 years since the fateful evening. I had still been in the hospital. After many surgeries, I had regained almost full control over my hands, though my legs continued to be weak.
My daughter, Ananya visited me often with Pranati. “Baba, when will you come home? I want to play with you.”
This question from my innocent child brought back the memories of that fateful day in the train where the child, Radhika was having an almost similar conversation with her father. My eyes welled up…
Why do people kill total strangers, whether men, women or children?
What is gained by killing innocent people?
By killing innocent people, maiming them for life, how can anyone benefit?
God gave empathy to the human race. Where has it disappeared?
What motivates a fellow human to take the life of others without a thought for their families, their mothers, their children…
So many questions but which remain unanswered, as the human race races from one tragedy to the other all over the world. A world which looks so beautiful from space, in fact, the most exquisite, but you dive below the clouds and find the denizens of a so-called intelligent race trying to destroy it at the earliest.
The blood is the same, the skull is the same, everyone is made up of the same chromosomes and genes; that’s because God created everyone same but a few Power hungry humans created differences….nay programmed divisions to suit their own puny ambitions…