Mumbai, Aug. 14: During the monsoon, the ferry service at Mumbai’s Gateway of India is thin. The lunging sea waves are not very popular with tourists heading to the Elephanta Caves island or the Mandwa jetty.
But this morning, there was a peak season-like jostle at the head of the slippery steps leading to the tiny jetty below the Gateway.
Pavement dwellers, sundry foreigners, onlookers, hawkers, hookers at the end of a hard night’s work, and reporters — all wanted a ride on the catamarans and motorboats that normally charge Rs 60 for a 30-minute ride along the Mumbai docks.
Jameel Siddiqui does just a couple of trips with his 50-seater Al Madinah during the monsoon — the sea is too rough for his 25-year-old motorboat.
“Weekday mornings at the Gateway during the monsoon are a waste of time, there is nobody to take a ride. But when I heard of the blast last night, I knew I should be up early and get the boat ready for trips for the curious cats of Mumbai. But I was not sure the navy and police would allow it,” said Jameel, who was charging Rs 250 for a 30-minute ride.
If you had to take a TV camera and other equipment along, it would cost more, depending on Jameel’s whims.
The drizzling rain, the charcoal clouds, the choppy waves, nothing deterred the people eager to catch a glimpse of a freak show. Jameel had told everyone he would show them smoke billowing from the bottom of the sea.
The explosion on board the INS Sindhurakshak had left the dockyard waters, where the submarine had gone down, steaming.
After a 15-minute wait for the boat to fill up, we were on our way. Al Madinah sailed along the naval docks lined with frenzied men and machines engaged in rescue operations but maintaining a respectable distance from the looming warships.
“How many died? How many?” asked a girl with stained lips and stale flowers in her hair. Then realising I was not a TV reporter, she quickly moved away towards one, possibly to give a soundbite.
One of the biggest naval disasters, the INS Sindhurakshak accident did not inspire terror-obsessed security agencies to keep civilians away from the site. There were no Coast Guard boats stopping the curious crowds.
And everybody on the boat made the most of it. People keeled over dangerously, mobile cameras in hand, TV cameras rolled and television reporters did their piece to cams.
Jameel kept droning mechanically now and then: “Photography not allowed. Government ru—u—ule!”
But no one paid heed — the gushing smoke on a grey choppy sea was too rare a sight not to freeze on camera.
Soon after, Jameel and his assistants were turning the Al Madinah around to get back to the Gateway jetty. Those on board were eager to tell people not fortunate to take the ride the story of the smoke on the water.
But as the drizzle turned into a torrent, few paid heed to the billowing smoke. As they waited impatiently to reach the jetty, under the water somewhere were 18 missing sailors.