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Fear courses through Mumbai’s lifeline

Mumbai, March 14: A marketing manager of an FM radio channel sent a message early in the morning to his team: Nobody is to come to office or venture out into the market today.

Mumbai is reeling under the effect of last night’s blast in a first-class ladies’ compartment at Mulund.

A bomb disposal squad and sniffer dogs were today pressed into service in the Powai area following rumours that explosives have been planted in a bus.

People are scared that there may be other explosions. The police also fear that. No place is safe — it could be a train, a bus, or even an autorickshaw. It could be any locality, any time.

The fear is apparent most in railway stations and trains. Trains are empty today, because for many it’s a holiday because of Muharram. For those who have had to come out, jumping into a train is followed by a quick scan of the luggage racks.

It was on such an overhead rack that the bomb that killed 12 people last night was apparently placed.

Constant announcements are being made at the platforms. At every station, a taped voice is relentlessly telling passengers to look out for unidentified objects.

That is uppermost on people’s minds, anyway, though passengers.

“There was a scare in my compartment today when we spotted a big bag in the luggage shelf that we thought had been just there,” said Sudhakar Bode, a young computer professional who travels daily on the Central Railway line, on which Mulund is situated.

“Then one man said it was his. We laughed and joked about it then,” he said. “We laughed and joked all the way about whose turn it would be next,” he added.

There are extra policemen patrolling trains and platforms. “We have increased the numbers of both RPF and GRP personnel on long-distance and local trains,” said a railway official.

Policemen are moving from compartment to compartment in local trains.

But with the tension is also apparent Mumbai’s ability to take tragedies — this is the fourth killer blast in three months — in its stride.

“The fear will stay on for some days,” says the computer professional. “But other than that, everything will be normal,” he assures.

“Everything was as usual today itself, though the compartment was empty because of a holiday,” said Gracy D’Souza, a secretary in a multinational, who took her morning train to Churchgate. “All of us made sure that there was no suspicious object lying about,” she said.

“We can’t stop taking the trains to work, even if there is a bomb scare.”

That is the real worry for the authorities, as trains are the lifeline of this city. One thousand one hundred and sixty three local trains ply daily on the Central Railway line alone, with 3.5 million people travelling on these trains every day.

The Western Railway line, the other railway line running through the city, runs almost as many trains.

During peak hours, a train in the Central line carries between 3,500 and 4,000 people, which makes it such an easy and effective target.

“We can only deploy some more policemen. Beyond that it is really how alert the passengers are. We can only do this much,” said the railway official.

The city knows that this comes with being a Mumbaikar.

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