SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: It was 17:54 as the railways would prefer to refer to time when the minute-hand on the dial of the clock has reached the 54 minute mark past 5 in the evening.
The Western Railway local pulled out of the Churchgate station in Mumbai. It was just another day. And just another trip for the train’s driver, who had done the same thing for maybe fifteen years or maybe eighteen or even twenty.
As the train gathered speed, the rain-smothered walls of buildings by the track blurred into a grey montage. The incessant rumble of traffic on the road in the distance; the honking of a thousand automobiles; and the unstoppable chatter of a thousand throats all around was muffled by the rhythmic clanging of the train’s wheels against the metal of the track as it snaked its way through the denseness of another Bombay day.
Sitting in the first class compartment he was thinking of his wife. She had just called his cell phone to say that she was going to prepare a special meal for him that night. It was their wedding anniversary.
And then he thought of the cute little girl, his daughter. He told himself that he should devote more time to her. It didn’t matter that he was always busy, he reminded himself.
The father in him was prodding him. He longed to get back home as early as possible. Even in the next two minutes if he could help it. To warmly hug his child and convey to her his affection.
Somehow yesterday evening, he wanted to be home early.
He opened the crumpled folds of The Times of India which had been lying in his brief case since morning. He hadn’t had the time to read it until then. It had been an unusually hectic day at the office. ‘You said it’. Yet another of R.K. Laxman’s cartoons on the front page. He smiled wryly at the sarcasm of it all that featured who else, but yet another venal politician in some inane conversation with his rotund wife.
As he reclined in his seat a little, his mind went back to the time when he had just picked up a job and was happy that he could take care of his aging mother. His father had been dead since the time he was in high school. A range of thoughts; of childhood spent in Nagpur; of his friends and the fun that cocooned his days when he was still a boy in ill-fitting shorts; of college; and marriage.
Meanwhile the train kept its course on the tracks. And suddenly, quickly, it happened. The fuse of a bomb, the symbol of the human mind’s capacity to deviate and detonate senseless morbidity in all its bone crushing and flesh searing grotesqueness, had got activated. Perhaps from underneath a seat in the compartment.
The bomb went off and in its blowing up were intermingled the joys, the dreams, the yearnings, the affection, the love, the aspirations, the expectations, the hope and the confidence of his family.
Even before he could even as much as blink his eyelid, his world had been reduced to a gory spectacle, a tragic plot.
The compartment’s top had been blown off like a circus tent torn asunder by the unstoppable force of a gale wind; the metal lay misshapen and shards of glass flew around maiming and shearing every human body in its wake; the acrid smell of death; the wails of agony; of shock; of helpless vulnerability.
The train compartment which not too long ago looked the picture of a well composed assemblage of men and women fully in charge of their lives now resembled a gory, blood-splattered, gut wrenching hell hole where human beings lay in different poses of contorted emaciation, feebly begging the world for assistance and succour; care and concern. From the burning, searing, bloody torment that they found themselves in, all too suddenly.
Memories and hope tried coming together in one moment of desperation as he tried to battle the pain inside him which coursed through his veins like poison from a snake’s fangs.
His eyes were refusing to keep themselves open to take in the sights of the world. A world that had gone topsy-turvy anyway. A world they wouldn’t have recognized at all.
Slowly the eyes closed and he lay on the compartment’s floor in pathetic disarray; his clothes torn to pieces like most parts of his body; his shoes a mass of crushed leather; his limbs dripping blood and creating a crimson pool on the dirt laden floor. Amidst the mayhem, an empty peanut shell looked like a tiny boat ready to set sail in it.
His closed eyes did not open ever again. He was dead.
And somewhere, someone, presumably the head of a terrorist group, perhaps stretched himself on an expansive leather couch and lit a cigarette. On a job orchestrated and concluded well.
And some where, someone, is still worriedly waiting for him to return home.
Remember, it was their wedding anniversary.