“He just fell on us as if to protect us from bullets”

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Sitaram Sakhre, who was killed at CST, and his wife Gangu, who survived the firing.
Sitaram Sakhre, who was killed at CST, and his wife Gangu, who survived the firing.

Meena Menon

For a change, Sitaram Sakhre decided to take the train to his native village … and that cost him his life

MUMBAI: It was the first time that 42-year-old Sitaram Sakhre decided to take the train to visit his native village in Solapur district. “That was the ticket of his lifetime,” says his inconsolable wife, Gangu.

Sitaram, a headload carrier in Navi Mumbai and 10 others were headed for Solapur by the Siddheshwari Express on the night of November 26.

“It was my brother’s son’s wedding on November 30 and we were going for five days. We had even invited my neighbour’s young daughter for the marriage,” says Gangu. They were sitting on platform no. 14 at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and Sitaram had just returned with his elder son, Ganesh, from the ticket counter.

“We were sitting on the floor and my husband was standing behind us when we heard what sounded like fire crackers. He turned back to see what was happening when something hit him and he fell. There was no sound. He just fell on us, his arms spread out wide as if to protect us from the bullets that were flying in all directions,” says Gangu. Ganesh tried to run and the bullets went through his arm. He still goes to a hospital to get the dressing changed every day.

There is a small colour portrait of Sitaram in the single room tenement at Govandi, an eastern suburb of Mumbai. Sitaram’s daughter, Surwanta, says her three-year-old son was among those present that night. “My father protected us from those bullets. We did not know he was dead. We just thought he was lying flat like the rest of us. In fact lying on the ground, I called my husband from my mobile to tell him we were all okay,” she says.

It was a little past 10 when the terrorists started firing. “The sound was like that of chana [roasted gram] spilling on the ground. The bullets fell like chana everywhere making a pat-pat-pat-pat sound,” Gangu recalls. There were nine adults and three children in the group. The family waited till the sounds of firing died down before making a beeline for the back exit. They realised Sitaram was hurt when they saw the blood seeping from his body. They managed to get a handcart to take him to St. George hospital, which is practically next door to CST. Sitaram died before he reached the hospital.

Gangu says the family had never gone to Solapur by train. “In my 26 years of marriage, we always went by bus, it was so much more convenient. We did not even know where the platform was. This time my husband was adamant that we should take the train as there were children and my neighbour’s daughter. He did not want them to be inconvenienced by a bus journey. It was all fate,” she reasons.

Gangu has only one wish. The man who shot her husband must be punished in the same manner in public. “It was a horrible scene on the platform. Four people from a family died and I saw one woman fall to bullets. There was blood all over the place.”

“Sitaram never drank, never shouted at me. He did his work and looked after his two sons and a daughter. He even looked after his brother’s family back in the village,” she adds. “Luckily the rest of us survived. Imagine if my neighbour’s daughter was killed? What would have happened,” weeps Gangu.

Her son, Ganesh, studies in the 11th standard and she hopes the Railways will give him a job as promised. Gangu and her husband were both illiterate. Her younger son, Somnath, is mentally challenged and a slow learner.

Gangu has asked her daughter to come back from her marital home in Navi Mumbai and stay close by. “I have the support of family and friends,” she says. “There is nothing else left. When I get up in the morning, I think of how I used to cook for my husband, pack his lunch at 4 a.m. Everything in the house and everything I do reminds me of him. It’s all so difficult,” she adds.

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