Lot of traffic there, sir, says the rickshaw driver when I tell him to take me to Bandra station. Never mind, I say, let's get as close as we can. Turns out we get all the way there in a jiffy, through pouring rain. Fire engines outside, distant disjointed sounds of sirens. Inside the station, people standing around talking, eyeing anyone who walks past. Nearly continuous announcements on the PA system, saying no trains are going anywhere on account of bomb blasts, please stay calm and cooperate with the authorities.
I walk down the platform -- how odd they look, as if swept clean of the usual rush-hour or any-hour crowd -- I walk down till the southern end. It's dark here and I can see streams of people emerging from the darkness along the tracks, some see me standing on the platform and reach out, give me a hand up they say. Two men stop to tell me, bahut log marela (many people dead), there at Matunga or Mahim the whole top of the train is ripped off!
I jump down and start walking towards Mahim along the tracks. The great majority of the people are coming the other way, and especially on the stretch across the Mahim Creek (the famous Mithi River), the manoeuvring past each other is hard. But everyone does it in a sort of silent camaraderie you can almost feel.
All around there are snatches of conversations: been on at Khar, no between Bandra and Khar, no that's at Santa Cruz. Near Gaiety-Galaxy cinema. Another one at Mahim. Churchgate? Nothing there. Also at Borivli.
One train sits on the track north of Mahim station, long dark and silent. Perhaps it casts a shadow, because it is even darker as I walk past, and I nearly stumble over the stones, the sleepers, the criss-crossing tracks and switches and other rail paraphernalia. What must it have been like here an hour ago, with bodies flying about and people running for their lives?
Another train just behind this one, and as I approach there's a growing buzz of human voices on the road beyond the tracks, then from above me. I realize I'm walking under a foot overbridge. I look up and silhouetted against the sky, I see it's almost absurdly packed with people watching. In front of me more people on the tracks, and then I see the compartment.
I flinch on seeing it, at the memory as I write this.
Suketu Mehta wrote once, and famously, of hands unfurling from a packed Bombay train compartment like petals, reaching out to grab that one more commuter and whisk him on board. Here the metal of the compartment is unfurled like some grotesque petals, side and top.
Great hole in the side reminds me, incongruously, of the times my dentist looks at a cavity in my teeth and says, huge hole! It's impossible to even imagine where the door was in this thing. Just a great leering hole.
I've travelled in these very compartments, at this very time of day. Hundreds of times. I know how packed they are, how people hang from every inch. What happens to those people packed like that when a bomb left by a non-human goes off in there?