On the train to Dadar, a painfully thin man wearing a silver and grey Adidas jacket plays the harmonica. Quite beautifully, too, though I don't know any of the tunes. It's one of those instruments with stops too, like one I have. When he's done our eyes meet and I give him a thumbs up. He comes over and I tell him, you played well. We get talking about music and I mention that I play too.
His eyes light up and he pulls the instrument out of his pocket. "Play something", he says. I launch into "Jaaneman jaaneman", from "Chhoti Si Baat". People are watching, listening.
And I'm feeling sadder and sadder with this song from a much simpler, more naive time. Who would have thought, in those balmy years of the mid-70s, there's random terror in our future?
I get off at Dadar and find my way through the rain to Kabutarkhana, where a bomb went off about 90 minutes earlier. The police have cordoned off the area, so nobody can get closer to the spot than about 50 metres. Several Toyota Innovas with dishes on top are present, thick cables from these vehicles snake underfoot, knots of people form here and there. The knots, I realize, are made up of spectators hoping to catch a glimpse of a TV correspondent as he files his report, and perhaps stick their faces into the broadcast. This may be why the knots, in this time of tragedy, seem filled with cheery, bantering, laughing, joking young men. The incongruity is something fierce.
Beyond the rope that holds us back, a troop of khaki-clad policemen, one carrying a long gun, suddenly turn on their heel and march away, towards the other side of the cordoned-off area. Beside me, a man points to a bus-stop there. "That's where it happened," he says in Marathi. "9 dead, they say, I'm sure it's double that." Then, inexplicably, he asks me what happened here. A few others turn their heads to listen to what I might have to say. By virtue of having been here 15 minutes longer than him, I'm an expert. He's carrying a large umbrella with a portrait of Bal Thackeray on it, and the way he holds it, it keeps the rain off my head too. I answer him politely enough and then excuse myself. I don't want shelter from the rain under a picture of Thackeray.
At the Innova belonging to Network 18, the knot of men is particularly boisterous. "Shiv Sena Zindabad", someone shouts from within it, but gets no answer. He shouts it again, a little softer this time.
Suddenly there's a small commotion from within the knot, and calls to clear a path through it. "Close umbrellas!" someone shouts this time. Inadvertently part of whatever's going on, I feel like I'm part of a reception line for royalty that will emerge from within the knot. But it's only the correspondent and his cameraman who walk past, all the way to the cordon where he positions himself to file a report. Behind them walk two young spectators, cellphones held aloft, capturing the movements of this correspondent on video.
One of the young men lowers his cellphone, turns and walks off, reviewing his film clip as he goes. On the other side of the police barrier, another painfully thin man berates us: "You want to know what happened here? Blast, blast, Mumbai!"
Half an hour later I am in the lobby of a friend's building nearby for a quick visit. Oblivious to the world, two boys are in a corner, playing chess. Still later, on the way back to Kabutarkhana, a woman walks past carrying a bulging plastic bag. She goes to a roadside garbage dump -- just the usual, trash overflowing onto the road and pavement, muck underfoot -- and carefully flings her bag onto the road too.
Blast or not, chess continues. Trash-flinging continues.