Chaos, traffic snarls back in metropolis

MUMBAI Aug. 26. Less than 24 hours after Monday's twin blasts, Mumbai returned to its normal level of chaos and hyper-activity. The markets were open, the routine traffic snarls choked many roads and people were back at work.

Even the JJ Hospital, which on Monday was the scene of frantic and grieving men and women looking for loved ones injured or killed in the devastating explosions, was almost serene. The Dean, Dr. G.B. Daver, had reclaimed his office; in contrast, on Monday it had been requisitioned by a number of politicians holding forth to the press about the condition of the injured. The wards, where the 46 survivors were being treated, looked in order; the patients wore clean hospital clothes while their relatives fussed over them.

Some of this was due to the stream of VVIPs who made their way through the corridors of the hospital — the Union Home Minister, L. K. Advani, followed by the Leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi. The injured, however, were not complaining.

Those who did complain, loudly and bitterly, were the Mumbadevi residents where the first of the two blasts occurred. An area that until late on Monday was strewn with shattered glass and other detritus of the blast had been sanitized overnight. All traces of the taxi that was the bomb on wheels had been removed; the glass had been cleaned up and the roads had been swept. Even the cows, usually tethered near the crossing where the blast took place, had been taken elsewhere. Once again, the reason for this sudden and most unusual cleaning effort was the imminent arrival of Mr. Advani and Ms. Gandhi.

"All these years we have been pleading with the traffic police and the municipality to do something about the dirt and the violation of parking rules in this area," said an agitated jeweller, Vimal Jain. "Yet, all our pleas fell on deaf ears. Now suddenly, overnight, the vehicles have disappeared and the street is clean!" But what was all this for, he asked, if they were not allowed to reopen their shops just because these politicians were visiting the area. Each day without business means a loss of lakhs of rupees to each establishment along the crescent of jewellery shops that is called Dagina Bazar.

Across the road, the windows in the buildings overlooking the blast site were spilling over with young boys looking out. These are some of the over 10,000 Bengali gold craftsmen who work in abysmal conditions to produce the most intricate jewellery. The city woke up to their existence two years ago, when a gas cylinder exploded in a workshop in a neighbouring area killing 17 workmen. As a result, says Biswaratan Datta, who has worked as a goldsmith for over 20 years, there has been a "Bengali hatao" campaign. "We are blamed for making the place dirty," he says. "The few remaining families in these buildings complain about us. But what can we do? With the market down, we can hardly earn enough to survive." Datta says that at least eight Bengali goldsmiths were injured in Monday's blasts and he knows of at least one who died.

However, jeweller or gold worker, the cynicism about politics and politicians is almost universal. "We don't believe these netas," said Datta. "When people have lost their lives, what will they do?" Adds a jeweller, "This is just a political stunt. We know all this is happening because elections are around the corner."

Vimal Jain claims that the area had not experienced any communal problems even during the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. "Where you are standing is the border, the Wagah border, if you will. On that side are Muslims, on this side are Hindus. But we never had trouble in the past because we did not allow politicians to enter. We are only interested in business. That is our only religion," he said. Other jewellers, waiting impatiently behind a barricade, endorsed Jain's sentiments and complained bitterly about television channels that had suggested that the blast took place in that particular locality because it was dominated by Gujaratis.

"All of India is here," said one man. "In any case, have you seen the list of those who were killed? There were as many Muslims and Hindus."

Once the politicians had zoomed in and zoomed out, the barricades were removed and soon the area was submerged under a sea of people, the residents of the area and thousands of disaster tourists.

At the Gateway of India, the scene of the second blast, the only tourists were those who came to view the wreckage. This too had been cordoned off all day and only opened to the public after Mr. Advani and Ms. Gandhi had left. As soon as that happened, scores of people began pouring in, looking at the crater left by the taxi that blew up, peering at the shattered windows of the Taj Mahal Hotel, observing the wrecks of a couple of the private cars that remained in the car park. But the photographers were already back at their job, the ice-cream sellers were walking around with their boxes and the peanut-sellers had returned even as they mourned the death of one of their own kind.

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