The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blasts rip Delhi’s heart before Diwali
- ‘Oh god, what I saw I’ll never forget’

Police constable Natwar Singh gingerly picks up a cloth shopping bag from the charred debris of what used to be the Shyam Juice Corner and places it over an ugly mass on the roadside, an action followed by a television cameraman who was so shocked when he discovered what it was that he puked ' a bloody and black piece from someone’s torso.

This is the western end of south Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar and it used to be till this evening called Babu Market, a hawker’s corner of stalls on wooden platforms that sold fruit juice, cheap plastic footwear and garments for women and children.

Babu Market’s customers were mostly those who could not afford to venture into the main Sarojini Nagar or, a little further on, the INA Market that caters mostly to the well-heeled and the diplomatic community in Chanakyapuri.

Manohar Singh, a government employee who lives in Sarojini Nagar’s G Block says he was at home when the blast lifted him clean off the floor a minute before or after 6 in the evening. He told his wife it could have been a gas cylinder blast but then he looked out the window and saw this huge cloud of smoke.

“I ran down and to the market. I was choking and running through a suffocating cloud and dusk was falling. I couldn’t see a thing but was choking. The fire broke out much later, we saw the flames only afterwards,” he says.

“I was confused. This place is always crowded in the evenings and today, on the eve of Dhanteras, it was already black with people. Then I saw, oh god, what I saw I’ll never forget. Bodies on the road, oh god, there was a child and then someone came with a white sheet of cloth and wrapped it and two youth took it away and there were ghostly figures in the dark trying to find their feet as if they were drunk.”

An hour after the blast, fire engines had doused the flames. A police officer said the explosion was at the Shyam Juice Corner. The vendor was Bhola, also called Ziauddin.

Bhola’s brother, Kamaluddin, who helps him out in the business was on an errand to Laxmibai Nagar. Now he is back and he is yelling at the police who are trying to take him away from the mob.

“Let me go you sonsofbitches, I don’t know where my brother is,” he yells his voice hoarse, tears streaming down his face. “Let me go, you dogs.” he is shouting even as the constables drag him away. “Why catch me, catch hold of those sonsofbitches Lovely and Parmod, I won’t let them alive that Lovely and that Parmod, let me go after them, you dogs....”

Kamaluddin is distraught but the local dynamics of Sarojini Nagar where hawkers and vendors like him are always afraid that the bigger and richer traders with shops in the pucca building of the main market are trying to drive them out. He suspects the blast and the fire were their doing.

Behind Shyam Juice Corner, graffiti on the wall of the main market names the stalls that the vendors of Babu Market ran and gives their telephone numbers: Akram Painter (“all types of penting”), Vicky Selection (“all type school uniform”), Jagan Pao Bhaji.

In the more temporary stalls, Diwali craftwork in coloured cellophane paper hang from bamboo beams held up by bamboo pillars.

“In one police van, I helped load three bodies, I do not know whether they were dead or alive, they were injured, I think they were all dead. Two of them were women. It was so bad that those who were injured would now be dead,” says Sanjay Kumar Saxena whose relatives ran three shops in the Babu Market corner.

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