Blast victims' kin struggle with shattered lives
Nearly every day for the past two years, two mothers have sat at their sons' bedsides and repeated almost the same words. "It's time to go home," they tell the young men. "Don't you want to leave the hospital?"
Mumbai's top neurosurgeons tell them not to expect replies. Both mothers pray their children will emerge from the severely brain-damaged states they were plunged into after bombs ripped through seven commuter trains in Mumbai two years ago.
The July 11, 2006, bombings killed 187 people and injured more than 800. Parag Sawant, 27, and Amit Singh, 22, are the last of the injured still in hospitals. Both have emerged from months-long comas, but doctors doubt either will ever be able to live without constant care.
Sawant's mother stares into her son's wide-open eyes, frozen in a perpetually startled expression. "I keep talking to him and try to make eye contact," said Madhuri Sawant, stroking his clenched fingers, which grip the steel hospital bed rail. "I keep telling him that he will get better and we will walk out of here." In another hospital nearby, Amit Singh's mother, Meena, straightens her son's head when it lolls to one side. His thin frame is strapped into a wheelchair.
"He can hear me. I'm sure he can. He replies to me with his eyes," said Meena Singh, kissing Amit on the forehead. The two women have never met, but both speak of miraculous stories about patients abroad who recovered fully after years in comas. Neither has time for blame.
"There is no use thinking of the people that caused the blasts," Sawant said, readying her son for twice-a-day physiotherapy sessions to strengthen his stiff limbs. "I just ask God to give my family strength."
Synchronized blasts in crowded spots - parks, markets, trains - have become the signature of Pakistan-based Islamic extremist groups that Indian authorities blame for a spate of bombings which have killed nearly 400 people since 2005. Pakistan has denied any role in the bombings.
Last year, 13 men were charged with murder for their involvement in the Mumbai train blasts. The men are allegedly members of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, an Islamic militant group based in Pakistan, and the Students' Islamic Movement of India, a banned group based in northern India.
Their trial has been repeatedly delayed.
Relatives of Sawant and Singh believe the two men, who did not know one another, were on the same train that on Friday night. Both had skull fractures and gaping brain injuries. They underwent multiple surgeries to clear clots, reduce swelling and drain fluid from the brain.
Neither can speak. The federal Rail Ministry has spent more than 3 million rupees on each patient and gave Sawant's wife a job as part of compensation for blast victims, relatives said. But each time the men blink their eyes, their families believe their sons can recover.
Singh began blinking his eyes last year. But since then, there have been few changes in the young business school graduate. Meena Singh grips her son's ramrod-straight hands, which rest on pillows on his lap.
"Tears come out from his eyes if I'm late coming into the hospital," she said, her voice trembling as she spoke of her son's dream of a degree in computer science. "I know Amit hears our voice, he understands things."
His doctors are pessimistic.
"The parents believe this to be true, but it is not," Dr. R.D. Nagpal said. He said Amit's brain damage is so severe that he cannot communicate or show emotion.
Meanwhile, Sawant's doctors say the former manager at a construction firm has shown some improvement.
He came out of a coma after 18 months, in January, when he began opening his eyes. He began mouthing his first words, which now include "mother" and "father" on May 31. He can reply correctly when asked to do simple multiplication, and can raise his fingers when doctors ask.
But doctors remain unconvinced of a full recovery. "Parag can never be normal. He obeys simple commands but recovery is a painfully slow process," said neurosurgeon B.K. Mishra, who treats Sawant at Mumbai's Hinduja Hospital. Far from the hospital, Sawant's daughter, Prachiti, plays with a stamp-sized photograph of her father and occasionally calls out for him.
Sawant's wife was seven months pregnant on the day of the blasts. When she brings their daughter to the hospital now, he only stares at her blankly.
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