As I took the 4:52 Churchgate Fast from Malad, I found that everyone around me was headed to the same destination that I was- Gateway of India. The occasion was to assemle at Gateway at 6:00 to show solidarity to the victims of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and raise a united voice against the incompetent government and from the response in the train itself I could sense the magnitude of the event.
I got down at Dadar from where my friend Jessica was to accompany me to CST- one of the sites of attack, before heading to Gateway. However, at the last minute I was informed that my classmates Alice, Jennifer and her friend Rosa were also joining in and we had to wait at Dadar itself for everyone to assemble. We waited, first for Jessica who arrived as late as 6:00 and then for Rosa who met us only at 6:15.
The 6:21 CST Fast arrived at Dadar almost totally empty and I asked the girls to accompany me but they insisted on travelling by the Ladies compartment. Alone in the General compartment, I was enjoying the evening breeze standing at the door when my phone first rang just as the train departed from Byculla. Mom called in to inform that two bombs had been recovered from CST station and were defused by the Bomb Squad just minutes back. Immediately I took the decision to abort the Gateway plan and return home as soon as possible. But that was not my only concern. There were four girls with me and I had to ensure their safety as much as mine. Without a second thought, I called up Jessica- the most understanding among the present and informed her about the turn of events and our further plans and hung up hoping that she would deal with the other girls.
Just as our train halted outside Sandhurst Road due to a red signal, Jessica called up frantically informing me that the girls were getting panicky and even thinking of stopping the train midway. I don't know how that would have helped but girls being girls, you don't confront them on logic in times of crisis! Thankfully better sense prevailed and the train was allowed to pull into CST on time. I had informed the girls to vacate the Ladies compartment and rush back to the General compartment where I was waiting and they obliged. Our plan was to stay put in the same train and return to Dadar. The train started its return journey in five minutes as 6:43 Titwala Fast and the regulars sensing the tension on the girls' faces suggested that we get down at Byculla itself as alighting at Dadar in an evening peak hour Titwala Fast would be a Herculean task.
Once on the highway, it was time for second round of deliberations. Jessica did not want to take a train ahead because she feared Dadar station might be bombed anytime. Alice was also against train travel, not due to bomb scare but because she believed she would not be able to alight at Dadar in the crowd. Jennifer was adamant we take the train and was willing to take up the responsibilty of making the girls safely alight at Dadar. Rosa, a stranger amongst us, watched the spectacle quietly, willing to take the route decided by majority.
This was proving to be quite an experience in disaster management! Finally it was decided, though not unanimously, to go back to the station and take the train to Dadar. While myself and Jennifer were keen to reach Dadar at the earlist, Jessica and Alice were still skeptical. Thankfully Jennifer persuaded all the girls to board the Ladies coach of an Ambarnath Slow while I got into the General compartment. Alice spent the train journey sitting uncomfortably, still scared and unsure, while Jessica prayed for her own safety all the way till Dadar.
Thankfully the ride to Dadar was uneventful and contrary to prior fears, the girls managed to alight comfortably. I escorted Jessica safely out of Dadar station from the backdoor avoiding the crowd she badly feared and returned to continue my journey back home. It was then that a fellow commuter got an sms who broadcasted it to the entire coach in Marathi- "CST वर दोन bomb सापडले! Police ने defuse केले!" Without wasting a second, a voice spoke out from behind- "Defuse झाले ना? आता काही tension नाही! ठीक आहे रे! " This is Mumbai! Life goes on!!