| Shikha Mukherjee waits on the emergency train to reach her 71-year-old mother, who was in AS-6. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
“We have only the list of the injured, not of those who have paid their debts and gone to heaven.”
The words of a ‘rail officer’ in the busy inquiry booth at Howrah station on Tuesday — followed by a paan-stained smirk, and a gleam in the eye.
From 40 to 57 to 97 leapt the number on the Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani Express injury list, just after the ‘relief train’ left for Bihar. The injuries were not “qualified” by how serious or not they were. No word was available, either, on where the injured were headed. A list of misspelt names, without age or address, was the only information the waiting hordes, streaming in since morning, had to cling on to.
It was amidst shouts of anguish and frustration that the Mughal Sarai-bound emergency train pulled out of platform no. 8 at 12.30 pm, 30 minutes behind schedule, to meet the victims of 2301 Up. Many had been waiting the entire morning, not knowing exactly where they were headed and what they would find.
“Only God knows what will happen now. All I can do is hope to see my mother and sister again, even if it is for the last time.” Jaideep Bhattacharjee’s voice cracked as he spoke of his family, in AS-2 on 2301 Up.
“My sister, Sharbani, is a National Award-winning kathak dancer and she was travelling with our mother for a show with Birju Maharaj in Jaipur,” explained the 28-year-old. He, like hundreds of others, was waiting for the emergency train. He, like hundreds of others, with no news of loved ones, could cling to only hope.
“We have been waiting here since 8 am for the train,” said Anand and Arun Agarwal, nephews of Motilal and Chameli Devi, in AS-1. “We heard one hour ago that our uncle was being shifted from Aurangabad hospital to Gaya. It may be a matter of life and death that we get there as fast as possible, but no one cares. No one from the rail authority is even here to tell us what is happening,” they accused. “The best they can do is offer compensation. What difference does that make' Who dies for the money'”
The best way to die is what they, and others, dubbed the Indian Railways. “If I had known it was such a mess at the station, we would have gone by road,” said Abhishek Agarwal, whose parents were in AS-2. Officer-in-charge, Shakespeare Sarani thana, was also on the relief train, but not on an official assignment. He was on his way to find S.N. Ghosh, a “close relative”, travelling in AS-2, berth no. 4.
“Howrah cabin, bolun…” crackled an official over walkie-talkie, quick on the heels of senior rail officials, who showed up at 12.30 pm to see the train off. “Apnara ki signal diyechen' Ki' Shiggiri deen!”
As they were waiting for the whistle, the numbers in Rafiganj kept going up... 40… 57… 97… As the half-empty train pulled out of Howrah station, there was no relief, only anxious hours, days to look forward to.