The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Living with the blasts
White with fear, but still amid trains

Priya Vispute hates numbers, yet she must continue to drudge at the railway accounts department. She hopes she can one day return to her passion — social work — and build a home for the aged.

Jahnvi Pangle worked in a garment company but chose to accept the better-paid railway job for the sake of one-year-old Soham. The policy department worker says she had never seen so many files before.

The sight of the trains at Mumbai Central brings back to Nirmala Thakare memories of her husband who died in the blasts exactly a year ago.

She grits her teeth through her shifts as a train cleaner, thinking of four-year-old Nikhil’s future. Like Jahnvi and Priya, she knows there’s no escape from July 11 for her.

The near-simultaneous blasts that piled 187 bodies on seven suburban trains also left behind dozens of 7/11 widows, struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives in surroundings they would want to run away from.

Katha Naikwad at Mumbai Central’s establishment department has an extra battle to fight every day. The thought of boarding a train still makes her go white with fear but she has to because now it’s her job.

The MSc in mathematics used to tutor schoolchildren but decided to accept the railways’ offer of a Grade IV job to secure a better future for five-year-old Nirmitee.

“I was always confused about places; I would rely so much on Hriday! Now that I’m on my own, it’s very difficult,” she says.

“After Nirmitee was born, he shared all the responsibilities with me. On Sunday he would bathe her, get her ready and do chores around the house.”

The couple were planning a second baby and had already told Nirmitee about it. Now, the child often reassures her mother: “Aai, the day baba comes back we’ll go to the doctor and get the new baby.”

Like the railway job, the compensation can bring its own problems. When the money had arrived, Nirmala thought it was a chance to fulfil a wish husband Rimanya, a peon with the Citizen Credit Bank in Colaba, had nursed. “He wanted our son to study at an English-medium school.”

Today, she isn’t so sure. “My father-in-law is making life difficult for me ever since the compensation came in. He says the money should go to him. But I have to fight on for son Nikhil’s sake.”

Earner at 18

At 18, Kruti Killawala became the family bread-earner, her hopes of becoming an MBA in tatters. Her mother Chandrika, an MA in history, refused the railway Grade IV job she was offered after husband Anuj, an LIC employee, became one of the train victims.

Kruti now works as an LIC agent while Chandrika, a homemaker all her life, is training to be one.

“We had taken a loan of Rs 20 lakh for this house and moved in just two years ago. The money the government gave us was spent repaying the loan. With Anuj, all joy has gone out of the house,” Chandrika says, fighting back her tears at her tastefully decorated Vile Parle apartment.

“My son Neil has stopped talking altogether. He wants to go into motor racing but we want him to be a pilot. I don’t know if I can realise these dreams. But I never cry in front of my children.”

Vandana Kachalia not only refused the railway job but would not “touch” the Rs 5-lakh railway ex gratia or the Rs 1-lakh state government compensation, either.

“Lalit would never accept money from anybody. My children are young and I want them to stand on their own feet,” she says.

Vandana is trying to carry on Lalit’s business as an imitation jewellery craftsman on a small scale.

Her daughter Krupa, nine, is in class IV and son Sou- bhit, 16, in his matriculation year. He wants to become a pilot.

“The loss of his father has made him more determined. He wants to do it on his own merit, and I believe he can,” Vandana says.

Mumtaz Motani feels too old to start life all over again: she would have celebrated her 24th wedding anniversary this year. Her doctors have advised her to engage herself in some kind of work, but she can’t concentrate on anything.

Neither of her sons was interested in the railway job. “Riyaz wants to do an MBA and Rafiq to work for a doctorate,” she said. “But money is a problem now.”

Ramzanali Motani was a poet. Mumtaz says most of his poetry was centred on the idea that “a single moment can completely change one’s life”.

She wishes he weren’t so right.

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