Reporter’s Diary: How the 7/11 Train Blasts Changed My Life

The 11 July 2006 blasts in the first class compartment of a local train were a reminder of the 1993 terror strike. 

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India
4 min read
Wife Preeti and other family members wail during the funeral of Parag Sawant.
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Jency Jacob, then a reporter with CNN-IBN, was in the compartment just next to the one that exploded on 11th July, 2006, in the Mumbai train blasts. He rewound the clock and wrote this first person account for The Quint in 2015. On the anniversary of the blasts, we revisit his story.

The death of Mumbai train blast survivor Parag Sawant this Tuesday brought back horrific memories of that tragic July evening 9 years ago. On 11th July 2006, terrorists struck Mumbai’s lifeline, the western suburban rail network in a series of 7 blasts. They used explosives packed in pressure cookers, armed with a timer to explode at pre-determined intervals.

Parag Sawant, then 27 and on his way home in a Churchgate-Virar train, suffered serious head injuries when a bomb ripped apart his coach near Bhayander. Parag spent the next 9 years in a comatose state at various hospitals, displaying a strong will to survive amidst all odds, but eventually ended his battle early Tuesday morning. The serial blasts killed nearly 200 people and left over 800 wounded, some with injuries as grave as Sawant’s.

I reported the story, bringing to the world vivid details of the first of the seven blasts that ripped the 1st class coach of the train near Santacruz station. My fate could have been similar to that of Sawant or any of the other dead.

Workers cut a damaged part of the local train compartment hit by the blast. (Photo: Reuters)
Workers cut a damaged part of the local train compartment hit by the blast. (Photo: Reuters)

Fortuitously, I survived to tell the tale only because I had chosen to travel in the second class compartment that month – a fateful decision I had taken just a few days prior, unaware that it would save my life. As a correspondent with CNN-IBN then, I had finished my day shift by 5:30 pm and had hopped onto the 6:04 pm slow local from Lower Parel station, to head home to Borivali. I stood between two rows reading the local newspaper. Around me were people chatting, laughing, reading and playing cards – a perfectly unexceptional scene on an evening local train taking office going Mumbaikars back home.

The strange comfort of this daily humdrum was suddenly disrupted around 6:27 pm. A loud explosion shook us violently, lights and fans shutting down and our hearts pounding in fear. The train came to a screeching halt and there was pin-drop silence. We looked around, unable to grasp what had gone wrong. Some passengers jumped out in panic but conventional wisdom warned me not to follow as it could prove fatal with trains passing by on adjacent tracks. Eventually though there was no option left but to vacate the compartment.

The scene that caught my eye as I leapt out still remains etched in my memory. Just one compartment away from mine, the general first class coach lay blown to bits.

Train commuters travel in the refurbished coach that was damaged in one of the bomb blasts at Mahim station in Mumbai. (Photo: Reuters)
Train commuters travel in the refurbished coach that was damaged in one of the bomb blasts at Mahim station in Mumbai. (Photo: Reuters)

I had reported deaths in the past, but nothing had quite prepared me for those live scenes of devastation – bruised bodies lying everywhere, some already dead, others unconscious. There were loud screeches of wailing passengers crying out in pain, while others sat frozen, too shocked to react to the dismembered body parts strewn about next to them. There was the stench of raw blood in the air, coupled with the residue of burnt explosives.

Recovering from the initial shock, as I began piecing the story together for live phone cut-ins with my channel, it became clear that six other blasts had gone off successively on other trains. Mumbai had been hit once again at its very core by terrorists after the deadly 1993 blasts. The story rapidly gathered global scale, keeping us TV reporters on our feet for the next 36 hours, as we breathlessly reported the event without a break for global news channels and radio stations. The attack had proved that terror was no longer limited to the front lines, but had entered our cities now.

With time, the minute details of the attack have blurred from memory, but what remains fresh even till date are the little asides that put Mumbai’s abundant resilience and human spirit on display that day - Commuters risking their own lives to help the victims, residents supplying bedsheets for makeshift stretchers which were used to ferry the injured out to nearby hospitals. Within 20 minutes, every possible survivor was evacuated and taken for treatment.

A man lays a wreath on a memorial. Seven bombs went off in Mumbai killing at least 183 people. (Photo: Reuters)
A man lays a wreath on a memorial. Seven bombs went off in Mumbai killing at least 183 people. (Photo: Reuters)

Personally, my own role that day was redefined, from that of a mere reporter with no personal stake in the event, to one of a survivor, which brought another dimension altogether to the episode.

Over the next one year at CNN-IBN, we documented a lot of stories – a sculptor who lost his hand but had re-built his life by sheer grit and willpower, a 22 year old young man who lost the mobility of his left hand and had been retrenched by his bank. Through our efforts, we convinced the bank to re-employ him in a desk job. But other victims had to fight an uphill battle to be justly compensated for the attacks. The process, expectedly marred by red tape and bureaucratic apathy, despite loud proclamations and promises by the government.

Nine years on, not much has changed. The trial is still underway and for several who’ve sustained life long injuries or lost their near ones, there is still no sense of closure. Sawant and the thousands of others who’ve been victims of the multiple assaults on this city, certainly deserve better.

(Jency Jacob is Managing Editor, BOOM. Jency has spent the last 15 years reporting economics, markets and general news across major national news networks.)

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