Memories of pain untold

As journalists, we always arrive at terror strike spots after the event.

I remember sitting down to lunch with a friend at a restaurant in South Bombay on March 12, 1993 and, before we were through the soup, the floor shook even as there was a sound of a big blast to our left.

A lot of roads had been dug up to lay some water pipes and we thought it was the result of more dynamiting. But, moments later, the same thing happened and the sound this time was to the right.

“This is something unusual,” I told my friend. “We must rush.”

I was working for a wire service at the time and instinctively I followed the sound to arrive at the Air India building a few metres away. I will never forget the pain I saw in the eyes of the charred victims, even as they were alive and lay helplessly on the road opposite, skin completely blackened, waiting for help.

I knew enough not to touch anything – we were there even before the cops arrived with their dog squad. That was before the advent of 24×7 television so there was a semblance of order and discipline as we set about reporting – but then the real bad news began. A series of reports about blasts all across Bombay began to come in and the body count at the J J Hospital morgue began to mount.

I was asked to keep away from the actual blast sites because my news editor was worried there would be a repeat of an earlier unfortunate incident from my reporting on the riots two months earlier. I was caught bang in the middle of flying soda water bottles in central Bombay – and as flying shards from one came close to my face, I raised my hand to ward them off. I suffered a deep cut on the inside of my wrist, it took a long time to stanch the blood flow, (I still carry a scar) and that gave all my colleagues a big fright.

So I was kept counting bodies in various morgues – and that was as traumatic an assignment as any.

I arrived after the event again at the Gateway of India where a car bomb had gone off on August 25, 2003. This time there was a profusion of television cameras and crews, I could not get too close. But still the sight of the blood and shattered glass and metal from afar was as terrible.

One of the July 11, 2006 train blasts happened close to my office – I was not reporting but still curiosity took me to the railway station though I could not and did not venture too close.

Wednesday’s blast was different. I had been planning for weeks to visit a bookstore in the crowded locality of Dadar to lay hands on some Hindi and Marathi titles. One thing or the other intervened but by 615 pm, when I found myself free of any further work for the day, I decided to drop by the bookstore on my way home.

I thought the sudden traffic jam that came from no where as I approached the school near which the blast took place was because of the rains. But determinedly I pressed on – until a cop, who was diverting all the cars, tapped on my window and said, “Where do you think you are going? There has been a sfot (explosion) just a little ahead. I advise you to do a u-turn and return from where you came.”

Of course, my reporter’s instinct kicked in. I got out and started to ask him for details, even as he spoke to me as though I was a child, “You need to get home and safely indoors.” Then he leaned into my car window to tell my driver to take me home.

“I am asking you because I am a journalist!” I exclaimed, outraged. “This is my job, just like it is yours. So what kind of blast is this?”

His attitude changed instantly. “It could be a cylinder or it could be something else. Its happened in a car,” he said. There was something in his voice that told me it was not a cylinder burst.

“Then it could be a car bomb?” I asked him.

“Could be. I have no confirmation of the facts,” he said.

“If its not a cylinder burst in a car you know better than to tell me that,” I snapped. “This could then be a terrorist attack.”

Yeh aap bol rahi hain,” he said. “Yeh baat maine aap se nahin kahee.” (I did not say that, you did.)

It was all the confirmation I needed (though, as it turned out later the bomb was not placed in a car, just near one). I rushed to call my colleagues at work but found the cell networks jammed. So I asked my driver to turn round and get as far away from the area as possible to a less congested site until I got through to someone.

Assuring myself that my colleagues had already heard and that younger reporters were at work, I quietly returned home. Half an hour after I had let myself in, I wondered why I hadn’t rushed to the blast site as I had done each time in the past, despite being there within minutes and closer than any other reporter could have been at the time.

I was thinking about that all night until I had the answer.

I realised that, after a lifetime of disaster coverage and at least two decades of first-hand reporting on bomb blasts, I could not stand the sight of bleeding people and dead bodies any more. Personally, there was no story there for me any longer; just a feeling of the utter devastation that survivors and relatives of the victims might then be undergoing. Having lost a cousin, once removed, to the 2006 train blasts and conversant with that family’s devastation, I just did not have the heart to turn more people’s grief into just another piece of fine reportage. I could not have borne to see pain again in the eyes of the survivors, even if they were just strangers.

May be I am getting too old for all this and its really getting to be too much, I thought.

And this time, like any other common person, I felt enough was enough.

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  • Jaiprakash

    Hi Sujata,

    Good Article Sujata. I am not sure, If there ever will be a day when the peace will prevail again in our country.


  • vsc

    This is so much less about the story and so much of the author, its actually sickening, the author could do less with “Me first” …. sounds like Narendra modi singing peans about himself outside the nariman point incident while cops are battling terrorists inside.


    Ganesh S Reply:

    At least at this sombre tragic moment spare Ms Sujata of your usual sick outpourings.Have you not heard of first hand accounts ?

    Instead come up with concrete ideas and suggestions as to what we all can do to help the unfortunate victims.

    Battle against terrorism at one level is surely the prime responsibility of governments at state and centre.But at another level it is also a battle inside our minds -how do we overcome narrow parochial considerations and think as ONE society and ONE people.

    India needs to stand by Mumbai as ONE country.


    Raj Reply:

    Well, Ganesh, there are some people so blinkered and with such one track minds that things like sensitivity and objectivity are not for them. Yes, just like the Narendra Modi that vsc above speaks about. They will then continue to live with narrow parochial minds. Let’s the rest of us unite and stand as one behind not just Mumbai but everywhere where such tragedy might occur -but, best, try and change mindsets so that such tragedy does not occur at all


  • Kushal

    Thanks, Sushmita!


  • Anamika

    Oh!!! This is divine intervention – a physiotherapist named Dr. Bookwala I mean. I’m sure you’re attending every session religiously, just to have a chance at calling out aloud to her ;-)

    Hope your wrist has healed and you’re better.



  • Anita

    The only difference is Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie have come to India. While MF Hussain was hounded out of India. Ramanujam essay was banned and Cow slaughter ban has been applied with a clause of guilty until proven innocent and 7 year prison sentence. Even if you kill a person you get 7 year sentence.

    So the govt. has been more practive in projecting the Hindu community to be more illeberal and regressive as the Muslim extreme demands never get met in any case.


  • Paul T

    Actually praying to the Sun makes people look like idiots and those who can’t see that are insecure or narrow minded.


  • RajX

    Khorakiwala sounds like a great, honest and ethical business person as well as a educationalist. Hats off to him for his achievements. Wonder why his death did not make the feont pages? Is Zia mellowing or what? No “us against them” and “world against ummah” type articles from him the last two times? Miracles can happen even in Kalyug I guess.


  • Anonymous


    Why have you stopped visiting Mr. Sharma’s blog ?


  • Anonymous

    Zia is nuts. Most of the people in Mumbai/Pune know about Akbarallys. Most of their clients were well off hindus, parsis etc. The common muslims were never seen in their store however Bohris were a common sight but I don’t consider them as part of common muslim population. They are too sophisticated to be clubbed with ghatia converts like Zia.


  • engrich

    for mr akbar ali,

    Ho na ye phool to bulbul ka tarannum bhi na ho
    Chaman-i dhr men kalyun ka tabassum bhi na ho
    Ye na saqi ho to phir mai bhi na ho khum bhi na ho
    Bazm-i tawhid bhi dunya bh na ho tum bhi na ho
    Khema aflaak ka istada isi naam se hai
    Nabz-i hasti taphis aamada isi nam sey hai

    (If there is no flower nightingale music should also not be
    In the world’s garden smile of flower buds should also not be
    If there is no cup bearer, wine and decanter should also not be
    Tawhid’s Assembly in the world and you should also not be
    The system of the universe is stable by this very name
    The existence’ pulse is warm with this very name.)


  • engrich

    distance between jinnah village and ghandhi village is only 9 miles.


  • Anonymous

    nice inspirational piece. why not one on the reticent Azim Premji?


  • Anonymous

    Teesta herself is a criminal who has been working for saudis and congress.



    Untangling myth from fiction: Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s Reign of Power

    Untangling myth from fiction: Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s Reign of Power

    by Habib Siddiqui

    “It is difficult to untangle this historical mess without scrutinizing the accusations against Aurangzeb rationally. Fortunately, in recent years quite a few Hindu historians have come out in the open disputing those allegations.”

    In a polarized world that we live in (which is, sadly, getting ever more polarized now by every minute and hour), we have often assumed that what is good for “our” people had to be bad for the “other” people. A glaring example is the personality of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, who ruled India for 50 years. Of all the Muslim rulers who ruled vast territories of India from 712 to 1857 C.E., probably no one generates as much controversy as Aurangzeb. He has been hailed as anyone from a “Saintly or Pauper Emperor” to one who “tried hard to convert Hindus into Muslims.” Depending on one’s religious rearing, one will favor one view over the other. For example, most Hindus castigate Aurangzeb as a religious Muslim, who was anti-Hindu, who taxed them, who tried to convert them, who discriminated them away from high administrative positions, who interfered in their religious matters. On the other hand, Muslims consider him to be one of the best rulers who was a pious, scholarly, saintly, un-biased, liberal, magnanimous, tolerant, competent and far-sighted ruler. To prove the view of the former group, a close scrutiny of the Government-approved text books in schools and colleges across post-partition India (i.e., after 1947) is sufficient.[1] The second group depends mostly on pre-colonial (and some pre-partition) history, land-grant deeds and other available records.
    It is difficult to untangle this historical mess without scrutinizing the accusations against Aurangzeb rationally. Fortunately, in recent years quite a few Hindu historians have come out in the open disputing those allegations. For example, historian Babu Nagendranath Banerjee [2] rejected the accusation of forced conversion of Hindus by Muslim rulers by stating that if that was their intention then in India today there would not be nearly four times as many Hindus compared to Muslims, despite the fact that Muslims had ruled for nearly a thousand years. Banerjee challenged the Hindu hypothesis that Aurangzeb was anti-Hindu by reasoning that if the latter were truly guilty of such bigotry, how could he appoint a Hindu as his military commander-in-chief? Surely, he could have afforded to appoint a competent Muslim general in that position. Banerjee further stated: “No one should accuse Aurangzeb of being communal minded. In his administration, the state policy was formulated by Hindus. Two Hindus held the highest position in the State Treasury. Some prejudiced Muslims even questioned the merit of his decision to appoint non-Muslims to such high offices. The Emperor refuted that by stating that he had been following the dictates of the Shariah (Islamic Law) which demands appointing right persons in right positions.” During Aurangzeb’s long reign of 50 years, many Hindus, notably Jaswant Singh, Raja Rajrup, Kabir Singh, Arghanath Singh, Prem Dev Singh, Dilip Roy, and Rasik Lal Crory, held very high administrative positions.

    Two of the highest ranked generals, Jaswant Singh and Jaya Singh, in Aurangzeb’s administration were Hindus. Other notable Hindu generals who commanded a garrison of two to five thousand soldiers were Raja Vim Singh of Udaypur, Indra Singh, Achalaji and Arjuji. One wonders if Aurangzeb was hostile to Hindus, why would he position all these Hindus to high positions of authority, especially, in the military, who could have mutinied against him and removed him from his throne?

    Most Hindus like Akbar over Aurangzeb for his multi-ethnic court where Hindus were favored. Historian Shri Sharma states that while Emperor Akbar had 14 Hindu Mansabdars (high officials) in his court, Aurangzeb actually had 148 Hindu high officials in his court. (Ref: Mughal Government) But this fact is somewhat less known. It does not require much intelligence to understand the difference between 14 and 148. But when truth is hostage to bigotry, facts are substituted for fiction, 148 may appear to be smaller than 14 to disingenuous historians, and that is an unfortunate reality we face.

    Some of the Hindu historians have accused Aurangzeb of demolishing Hindu Temples. How factual is this accusation against a man, who has been known to be a saintly man, a strict adherent of Islam? The Qur’an prohibits any Muslim to impose his will on a non-Muslim by stating that “There is no compulsion in religion.” (Qur’an: Surah al-Baqarah). The Surah al-Kafiroon (The Unbelievers) clearly states: “To you is your religion and to me is mine.” It would be totally unbecoming of a learned scholar of Islam of his caliber, as Aurangzeb was known to be, to do things which are contrary to the dictates of the Qur’an.

    Interestingly, the 1946 edition of history text book, Etihash Parichaya (Introduction to History), used in Bengal, published by the Hindustan Press, 10 Ramesh Dutta Street, Calcutta, for the 5th and 6th graders states: “If Aurangzeb had the intention of demolishing temples to make way for mosques, there would not have been a single temple standing erect in India. On the contrary, Aurangzeb donated huge estates for use as Temple sites and support thereof in Benares, Kashmir and elsewhere. The official documentations for these land grants are still extant.”

    A stone inscription in the historic Balaji or Vishnu Temple, located north of Chitrakut Balaghat, still shows that it was commissioned by the Emperor himself. The proof of Aurangzeb’s land grant for famous Hindu religious sites in Kasi, Varanasi can easily be verified from the deed records extant at those sites. The same text book reads: “During the 50-year reign of Aurangzeb, not a single Hindu was forced to embrace Islam. He did not interfere with any Hindu religious activities.” (p. 138) Alexander Hamilton, a British historian, toured India towards the end of Aurangzeb’s 50-year reign and observed that every one was free to serve and worship God in his own way.

    These above references clearly show that accusations of forced conversion and religious intolerance are false. It is also evident that since the independence of India in 1947, there has been an overt attempt by revisionist, bigoted Hindu historians in India to malign the Muslim history.

    Now let us deal with Aurangzeb’s imposition of Jizya tax which had drawn severe criticism from many Hindu historians. It is true that Jizya was lifted during the reign of Akbar and Jahangir and that Aurangzeb later reinstated this. Before I delve into the subject of Aurangzeb’s Jizya tax, or taxing the non-Muslims, it is worthwhile to point out that Jizya is nothing more than a war tax which was collected only from able-bodied young non-Muslim male citizens living in a Muslim country who did not want to volunteer for the defense of the country. That is, no such tax was collected from non-Muslims who volunteered to defend the country. This tax was not collected from women, and neither from immature males nor from disabled or old male citizens. For payment of such taxes, it became incumbent upon the Muslim government to protect the life, property and wealth of its non-Muslim citizens. If for any reason the government failed to protect its citizens, especially during a war, the taxable amount was returned.

    It should be pointed out here that while Jizya tax was collected from able-bodied non-Muslim adult males who did not volunteer to join war efforts in a Muslim-administered country, a similar form of war tax was also collected from able-bodied Muslim adult males who refused to join war efforts to defend the country. There was, therefore, no discrimination between able-bodied Muslim males and able-bodied non-Muslim males when it came to the payment of war-tax, as long as the person in question would not volunteer in war-efforts for defense of the Muslim-administered state. Zakat (2.5% of savings) and ‘Ushr (10% of agricultural products) were collected from all Muslims, who owned some wealth (beyond a certain minimum, called Nisab). They also had to pay sadaqah, fitrah and Khums. None of these taxes were collected from any non-Muslim. As a matter of fact, the per capita tax collection from Muslims was several fold that of non-Muslims.

    I would also like to state here that before the advent of Islam in India, Rajputs living in western India used to collect a similar form of Jizya or war tax which they called “Fix” tax. (Ref: Early History of India by Vincent Smith) War tax was not a sole monopoly among the Indian or Muslim rulers. Historian Dr. Tripathy mentions a number of countries in Europe where war-tax was practiced. (Ref: Some Aspects of Muslim Administration by Sri Tripathy)

    Let us now return to Aurangzeb. In his book “Mughal Administration,” Sir Jadunath Sarkar, [3] foremost historian on the Mughal dynasty, mentions that during Aurangzeb’s reign in power, nearly 65 types of taxes were abolished, which resulted in a yearly revenue loss of 50 million Rupees from the state treasury. It is also worth mentioning here that Aurangzeb did not impose Jizya in the beginning of his reign but introduced it after 16 years during which 80 types of taxes were abolished. Other historians stated that when Aurangzeb abolished eighty taxes no one thanked him for his generosity. But when he imposed only one, and not heavy at all, people began to show their displeasure. (Ref: Vindication of Aurangzeb)

    I could see how even fair-minded individuals like Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen may have been deceived by the deadly venoms of dishonest, prejudiced historians whose sole aim has been to smear Muslim history. Such intellectual dishonesty by historians is dangerous – more explosive and more damaging than nuclear bombs. We have already seen its hideous effect with the destruction of Muslim historic sites (including the Babri Mosque) and recent riots in India that killed thousands of Muslims. Let us not fall into the trap set by those who want to “neatly divide our world.” Let truth vanquish falsehood.


    [1]. For example, see Shri Binoy Ghosh’s Bharatjaner Etihash (Bengali for: History of Indian People), Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

    [2]. Quoted in Chepe Rakha Itihash (The History – Hushed Up) by G. A. Murtaza, Barddhaman, India.

    [3]. He demonstrated his vast knowledge of Persian-language (the official language during the Mughal period) sources. However, he was a Euro-centric historian and thus, not flawless in historical accounts. He served as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Calcutta (1926-28).