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The 5:54 death train, a day later

July 12, 2006
At 5.50 pm, July 12, Chief Correspondent Syed Firdaus Ashraf was one among several commuters waiting on the platform of the Churchgate station.

The overhead indicator reflected the arrival of the 5.54 train to Borivali. Firdaus stepped in, finding space in the first class compartment that is immediately adjacent to the driver's coach.

Within minutes, the train took off. It was 24 hours, to the minute, since the same 5.54 Churchgate-Borivali local had been rocked by a bomb blast, in that same compartment.

This is what Firdaus discovered:

During rush hour, the 5.54 pm Borivali local is not so much 'standing room only' as 'survival of the fittest'.

This Wednesday, though, there was room to spare -- not as many people were jostling to go home, since not as many people had made it to work in the first place. And yet, there was enough of a rush; there was no sign of panic.

Mohammad Karim and Mahesh Kumar, both from Malad in northwest Mumbai, are regulars; both were surprised at the relative lack of commuters. "This train is always crowded," Mahesh said. "Both of us came today to prove that our city will stand up to any kind of terrorism."

The two, cloth merchants by trade, routinely catch the 5.54; they are part of the 'local' sub-culture, where regular commuters know each other, keep space for one another, and spend the commute catching up on each other's lives -- strangers-turned-friends for the duration of each day's journey.

Yesterday, though, neither was on the train -- they had finished work earlier than usual, and taken the 4.30 from Churchgate.

We look around at the less than half full compartment. Maybe, I wonder, there are fewer people today because unlike this duo, most are scared to venture out?

Karim won't countenance the thought -- Mumbaikars, he believes, are not easily cowed down. "Many people reached their homes very late, yesterday, and so they couldn't come in to work today," he explains. "You come tomorrow and you will see the usual rush."

Photographs: Syed Firdaus Ashraf
Also read: Complete coverage: The Mumbai blasts

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