| A woman mourns while waiting to receive the body of her husband from a mortuary in a Mumbai hospital. (Reuters)
Mumbai, July 12: Diamonds turned to ash as blast after blast ripped through local trains last evening, many of them carrying diamond traders whose inner trouser pockets were lined with the precious stones.
Traders of Panchratna, Parekh Market and Prasad Chambers in Zaveri Bazar ' the hub of the country’s diamond trade ' today downed shutters in memory of colleagues.
In this city of ironies, people who carry handfuls of cut and uncut diamonds, some emitting a dull blue light and others not so lustrous, travel by local trains without insurance.
Every evening, people like Prakash Shah and Mauji Haribhai Patel ' both of whom died yesterday ' would play cards in the trains, pockets stuffed with diamonds.
They believed simplicity is the best disguise for the wealth they deal in and carry on their person, travelling long distances in overcrowded suburban trains.
Even now, after some 17 of the dead have been identified and consigned to the flames, diamond traders are unwilling to guess how much each of them could have been carrying.
Most of the traders and assistants and owners commute daily to Charni Road station ' two stops short of Churchgate ' on their way to their establishments in and around Zaveri Bazar.
The Mumbai Diamond Merchants’ Association, headed by film producer Bharat Shah who was under a cloud for alleged underworld links, counts among its own 17 of those who died in the blasts at Matunga Road, Khar, Bhayander and Borivli.
Another 25 tradesmen and employees are missing. Based on information collected from their friends in the business, it is learnt that each of the victims was probably carrying precious stones worth Rs 20-50 lakh.
“Since we are local merchants, we don’t insure the diamonds. Thus there’s no way we can put an exact figure on the amount lost in the blasts. But approximately, we carry diamonds worth Rs 1 lakh to 50 lakh with us,” said Hitesh Mehta, who operates in Malad.
“The number of diamonds that is now lost in the wreckage of the trains is anybody’s guess. I can’t tell you much because diamonds come in different shapes and sizes depending on the colour, lustre and texture.”
A source from the MDMA said one of the merchants who died was carrying diamonds worth Rs 60 lakh.
The diamond trading community comprises mostly Jains who are superstitious. “We usually do not eat till we reach home safely and perform satsang (religious gathering).
“Last night, we spent hours looking for our friends but we could not contact them as phone lines were jammed. We got to know about them only around 9.30, but by then it was too late,” rues Mehta.
The MDMA operates across the country and supplies diamonds to Surat, Jaipur, Delhi and Ahmedabad and other places. It also exports to the US. Jewellery and diamonds are among the top five export items.
Among others who died are 27-year-old Jitendra Tadeshwar, the proprieter of H.J. Jewellers, who was caught in the Borivli blast. Yogesh Bhai died in Khar.
A merchant lucky to survive is Kalpesh Shah. “I usually travel with Mauji bhai, but 11 July was one of those days that I decided not to travel by that train.”