Mumbai, Aug. 25: Balashiva was arranging the shelves of his small paan shop when he heard a tremendous noise.
“For a while I didn’t know what was happening. Then the plaster from the upper floors of the building started to fall. I ran without looking,” says Balashiva who mans the shop for his uncle Anand Rai.
“With me all the others too in the shops ran away to a distance,” he says. “When we came back, the streets were littered with bodies,” says the young man who seems to be in his twenties.
“I was still shaking. I couldn’t speak. We didn’t know what to do. There were 20-25 bodies lying on the street. Their limbs were torn apart,” he says, his voice still trembling three hours after the blast.
“But not many from the building were hurt or killed. Most of the victims were the poor vendors on the streets or pedestrians.”
“The rest of the people in the building just ran away. Most of them have not come back.”
The Nityanand Paan shop, which Balashiva used to man, was one of the several that made up the ground floor front of Navnidhan Bhavan, the building in front of which the taxi-bomb at Mumbadevi went off today.
“Mostly the people on the streets were affected,” says Mohammad Fazal, a resident of the area. “I was inside my shop on the other side of the street, near the Mumbadevi Temple, when I heard the loud noise.
“There was blood all over. There used to be a beggar woman. Her head was blown off and it flew to a distance. One of her legs was lying on the other side of the street,” says Fazal.
“There were so many dead bodies. After a few minutes of stunned silence, the entire neighbourhood came together and we carried the victims to JJ Hospital and GT Hospital as soon as we could in whatever vehicles we could arrange. Then the ambulances arrived,” he says.
“There used to be a little girl, too, who used to live on the street here. She was killed. The cobbler here died, too,” he says, cautioning the crowd not to step under the balcony of the building on the other side of the street that was destroyed too. Shards of glass lay among little pools of blood.
“I don’t know what happened to the juicewalla. But the sandwichwalla received a minor injury in the head,” says Rohit Zaveri, a resident of the area.
“That was the lunch hour and many people used to come here because there used to be lots of food vendors here,” he says. “Plus there is always a stream of people coming in here from the Masjid Bunder Station nearby,” he says.
“I still don’t know what to think. I have become numb,” he says.
“The terrorists seem to be changing their strategy. First it was buses, autorickshaws and trains — now it is busy spots like this one and the Gateway,” he says.
“I was at home when I got the news,” says Anand Rai, Balashiva’s uncle. “I called and called, but the phones were not working. The mobile network in the city had also collapsed.
“But I was happy to know Balashiva was okay. That’s enough. I don’t mind my gutted shop. We will fight back.”