Everyone was just saying “Why? Why us?” And then I thought, “Why them?” The moment I heard that there was a blast at Mahim, I picked up my camera and rushed there. It was just five minutes from office. It was 6.20 p.m. The shopkeeper on the way told me, “Shayad short circuit hua hai.” I thought to myself that even if it wasn’t a blast and just a short circuit at the station, I had to shoot it anyway. As soon as I reached the main ticket window, there was one guy lying in a pool of blood on a movie banner.
And there was chaos.
No police, no fire trucks. Just people. The blast had happened in a fast train that doesn’t stop at Mahim. There were four stalled trains and all the bystanders were on the platform. The women were sitting in bunches; the men were all over the place. As I stood around thinking of what to shoot, a man abused me for not helping. The scene of bodies on the tracks was gory, to say the least, and I can’t even begin to describe the way they were wedged between the trains and the tracks.
Some people had focus. Like the four men who were shuttling bodies from the trains to the platform. Or like the young guy who was looking for his brother, checking every train on the tracks. Some were silly bystanders who stood on the platform and smiled or pointed at me when I tried to shoot a picture.
Then it started raining. Here were bodies and rubble strewn on the tracks and I was on the roof of a hutment. Not a single person ran for cover. There were people from news channels who were getting in the way of the helpers. Some were getting abused and beaten up. There were men who were calling the Prime Minister a eunuch. Then there were those who were desperately trying to contact their loved ones on their mobiles and not getting through. And there was the rain, washing away the stains of the blast from the tracks.
With the rain getting heavier, I couldn’t take any more pictures. I packed up and left the station. The road outside the station was packed with people. No one seemed sure of whether the trains were going to start or what they should do. In the rain and from the crowds, I could hear some voices shouting — something about blowing up Pakistan.
I came to office, filed and tried calling my parents. The phones were still jammed. Then I was thinking about visiting Hinduja Hospital, but being a private hospital, they wouldn’t allow the press in. Which is when I left for Matunga station, where I learned that there was a live electric wire on the ground on the tracks. It was 8 p.m. and I wanted to get to a hospital. The roads had people doling out water and biscuits to ‘travellers’ who had started their trek back home on a road choked with stationary vehicles.
The scene at Sion Hospital was, thankfully, far from gory. What struck me was a woman sitting and waiting. She was not crying. I asked her what had happened. She was returning from Nariman Point with her brother. Her brother was in a train compartment that had been blown up in one of the blasts. Her brother was in the trauma intensive care unit. Her voice wasn’t shaking. But her whole face was.
Suddenly, there were photographers everywhere asking the stupidest questions and flashing their cameras. I told them to stop using the flash. But they wanted their pictures.
“What happened?”, “How was it?”, they kept asking. I decided not to shoot anymore.
The emergency wards were panic zones, the doctors shuttling us out because we didn’t have permission. I was still trying to reach my parents when I got out of the hospital.
It was raining heavily and there weren’t any taxis ready to take passengers. I had to stop a man on a bike to give me a lift. He was an ordinary guy, an office-goer. He took a detour and dropped me near my office.
In office, I finally got through to my parents. They were fine. They now knew I was fine. Then there was news that Sonia Gandhi was coming to town. The next few hours went in trying to track her down. I caught up with her, shot her, and took a lift with some TV channel crew. On the way back, some residents of a nearby society almost forced me to have Parle-G biscuits for which I was grateful.
Most of the time on Tuesday night, I didn’t know what to do. What was I to shoot? The bodies? The bystanders? The people? The spot? The rain? Should I shoot pictures or help pick up bodies? Where is the disaster management cell that the government keeps talking?
Today, of course, things are back to normal. I have a shoot for HT Style.