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A city that has shed too much blood

December 20, 2006
If custom can inure you to tragedy, Mumbai should be shock-proof; god knows it has endured more than its fair share of atrocities.

Yet shock, and an undercurrent of rage, was the reaction to the events of July 11, or 7/11, as the world media dubbed it, when either by intent or coincidence, 7 bombs went off in the space of 11 minutes at nodal points along the city's Western Railway network.

The intent was clearly to cripple India's commercial capital; the chaos could, logically, have hindered normal life for days while rail and peripheral systems were brought back on line.

Yet, this is Mumbai -- a city that has shed blood to acquire its fabled reputation for resilience. Even as the official machinery groped for answers, the private citizen who is the city's spine took charge.

Impromptu rescue parties were formed at the sites; ordinary people who, moments ago, were going about their daily work were transformed into heroes. 'Can do, will do' pretty much epitomised the spirit: when rescuers lacked stretchers to transport the injured, women from neighboring slums came forward to offer their saris, and threadbare sheets, for the purpose. Shortage of ambulances? No problem -- every passing car immediately offered itself up for use.

Perhaps the one symbol above all others that encapsulated Mumbai was the endless lines of people who spontaneously queued up at leading hospitals, all ready, willing and able to give blood. There had, at the time, been no official call for blood; yet Mumbai's bloody history has taught it how to respond in time of crisis, and the response was spontaneous, instinctive.

When tragedy strikes, the mind instinctively seeks numbers to encapsulate, to explain. Thus, when we talked of July 11, we spoke of the 209 officially pronounced dead and the 200-plus who were injured to various degrees of seriousness.

We seek, we retail, these numbers because it is a handle to an event that otherwise threatens to overwhelm the mind. But perhaps there is another way to understand tragedy, and that is through the stories that victims, and survivors, have to tell.

We present, here, four such stories that take you behind the scenes of Mumbai's latest tryst with organised terror:

How should India fight terror? Tell us!

Text: Prem Panicker
Image: Railway staff clear debris of a local train which was ripped open by a bomb blast in Mumbai
Photograph: Sebastian D'Souza/AFP/Getty Images
Also read: 'Some of Mumbai's saviours'

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