The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Handshake and laughter as bodies drop

Ahmedabad, Sept. 25: Paresh Jayantilal Ramani had gone to Akshardham for a picnic. He came back with a bullet in his shoulder.

Still in shock, Ramani says: “I thought travelling in trains was dangerous, not praying inside temples.”

When he first heard the gunshots in the temple premises, he and his three friends thought someone was bursting firecrackers. It was only when a grenade exploded in the rear side of the garden that Ramani realised what was happening. But by then it was too late.

A bullet came whizzing past and pierced his leg. Even as his friend, Mahesh, tried to bolt away from the relentless flurry of bullets, another one caught him in the shoulder blade and ran through.

Ramani says he and his friend — they are being treated at Ahmedabad Civil Hospital — were shot at from “almost point blank range. They were very close when they fired at us, that’s why the bullets pierced our bodies”.

The first burst of bullets began at 5.10 pm, recalls 16-year-old Randip Chavda. He, too, had come from Kalol with his family of 11. There were seven elders and four children. “The oldest person to be injured in my group is my 70-year-old uncle and the youngest my two-month-old niece.”

Randip ran away with two-month-old Shripti — she is yet to get a formal name — and jumped over the fence barricading the main entrance. In hospital with an injured hand, Randip says: “The terrorists were quite leisurely in their manner of attacking the people in the temple. After they brought down a few pilgrims, we saw them shaking hands and laughing. I am not sure but I feel they must have also thrown 8-9 grenades in our direction.”

Although Satubhai Daulatsinh Zhala was lucky to have survived, of course with serious injuries, sweeper Kamala wasn’t. She was the first person to be shot by the terrorists when she tried to stop them from entering the temple with their shoes on. As Zhala, a guard at the temple for the last 18 years, saw Kamala collapse, he rushed towards the temple, shutting the door behind him and shouting warnings to whoever was within earshot.

But in the hospital, buzzing with activity and the quiet concern of a shattered city, there are many who have not been lucky to survive the attack. “You see there, that lady,” points Anil B. Trivedi, a swayamsevak who joined the relief efforts, “that lady is still semi-conscious. She doesn’t know that her child died in her arms and her husband died trying to shield her. We haven’t been able to tell her. No one has gathered the guts to do that.”

Ravaged by nature and man, Ahmedabad is distinctly more introspective, visibly soft and tangibly generous. People cry easily these days. They help even faster. Within hours after the news spread, a large number of people gathered at the hospitals, armed with money, medicines and food. They were looking to help anyone who caught their eyes.

Sreelataben is amazingly sweet-tempered for a nurse, that, too, in a government hospital. Stopping midway on her rounds at Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, she gives out painstaking details of all the wards that have victims of the shootout. In the lift to the second floor, blind liftman, Babubhai forgets his inconvenience and directs a group to another ward. “See, we must come together. Each time something bad happens, people become good”.

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