| Moments before the blast, injured photographer Soumeshwar Mondal took this picture of Utpal Bhakta of the bomb squad trying to detach a wire from a can carrying the explosive device. Bhakta died
Lalgarh (West Midnapore), Sept. 21: The smooth metalled road running through the thick Jhitka forest seemed deceptive, thought police driver Ashok Bahadur Dorji as he stood beside his Tata Sumo this morning.
But he had seen landmines being detonated many times, so he brushed away the thought. “I had watched such an operation before and I knew it would take its time as no one ever hurries with such a task,” Dorji said.
While officers of Lalgarh police station and a bomb disposal squad were at work, Dorji turned around to watch the birds, whose chirping had brought the still forest to life.
Minutes later, a deafening sound pierced his ears and he looked back with a start.
An improvised explosive device had exploded, filling the forest with smoke.
“I could see nothing,” Dorji recalled a few hours later. “All I could hear were screams and cries. I was too stunned to move, so I stood behind the Sumo. As the acrid fumes burnt my eyes, I kept thinking how foolish I was to think that everything would be over quietly and I could return home.”
Like Dorji, Gopal Mahato, a villager, had been watching the men at work. He, too, decided to keep a distance — as he always does when the men in khaki are around.
“These are difficult times with all the Maoists around and I didn’t want to mess with the police,” Mahato said. “I had heard that a bomb had been found and I was watching from behind a tree.”
After the blast, Mahato’s feet were glued to the ground.
“Though I could not see anything because of the smoke, I could hear people shout ‘Ma go, Baba go’ and what sounded like people wailing. Gradually, as the smoke began to clear, I saw some people lying flat on the ground. I didn’t know whether they were dead or alive.”
When Dorji summoned the courage to take a closer look at the devastation, he was horrified at the sight. “The ground was splattered with blood,” Dorji said. “Some of the people lying on the ground seemed to stir, and I felt relieved to find they were alive. But no one seemed to be in their senses, they were all too dazed.”
One of the first to react was additional superintendent of police, headquarters, Sumit Chaturvedi. “Sir’s face and hand were bleeding, but he took out his mobile phone and I could see him furiously talking to someone. Obviously, he was calling for help.”
It was a while before the police began galvanising all their resources to help the injured and the dying. “We lifted the injured and put them in police vehicles and rushed them to hospital,” Dorji said.
“I knew it would be a long day.”