Bombay struggles to get back to normal

Death toll of bombs on trains reaches 200

July 13, 2006|By HENRY CHU | HENRY CHU,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BOMBAY, India -- Ward 1 of the Hinduja Hospital treats male patients with psychiatric and skin disorders, but not of the kind seen here yesterday.

There was the man suffering such anguish that he emitted terrified, bone-chilling screams every few minutes. Propped up in beds around him were other dazed-looking patients with fragments of metal embedded in their skin - along their backs, in their arms and legs.

This was the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in India in more than a decade, a series of synchronized explosions along a crowded commuter railway that killed as many as 200 people and wounded hundreds in the country's financial and entertainment capital. Yesterday, the day after, the people of this port city struggled to return to business as usual, evincing both anxiety and aplomb in the face of tragedy.

"Life must go on," said 32-year-old commuter Sachin Kotian, as he resolutely prepared to board a train at the Matunga station yesterday morning, one of the worst-hit sites.

Eight explosions in less than 20 minutes ripped through trains and platforms on a key rail line in western Bombay, also known as Mumbai, at the height of Tuesday's evening rush hour. Officials blamed the attack on terrorists, though no one took immediate responsibility.

Authorities spent yesterday sifting through the wreckage for clues as to who was behind the attack and exactly how it was committed. A police official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the blasts were caused by bombs equipped with timers rather than strapped to the bodies of suicide bombers.

The death toll continued to climb - up to 200, said one state official - while hospitals staggered under the load of treating hundreds of injured. Frantic relatives still had trouble finding out the fate of loved ones. And there was concern that anger over the incident could ignite sectarian violence in a city where Hindus and Muslims have engaged in deadly clashes in the past.

But the overall impression yesterday was of a community trying hard to pull together and soldier on. Residents are conscious of their city's image as a resilient, exciting, self-assured place, the shining success story in India's steady economic rise, and few seemed willing to surrender that reputation. Even the Bombay Stock Exchange defied expectations and closed up 3 percent.

"Mumbai is the heart of India," said Neha Mehta, 24, "and Mumbai people are very practical."

Practicality drove commuters, albeit in fewer numbers than usual, back onto the beleaguered western rail line, which reopened for service in the morning under tightened security. Bombay's rail network serves 6 million passengers a day. Buses are slow and taxis expensive.

"There aren't a lot of options," said Douglas Morris, a software engineer and native of Bombay who rides the western line daily. "The trains are the lifeline of the city, and if the trains aren't there, the city's not there."

As authorities investigate Tuesday's blasts, they are increasingly pointing a finger at Lashkar-e-Taiba, or "Army of the Pure," a Kashmiri militant group that was also blamed by the Indian government for last October's serial bomb blasts in New Delhi that killed more than 50 people.

The Associated Press reported that Lashkar-e-Taiba had denied any role in the bombings.

Henry Chu writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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