In the darkness of the night, not one of the passengers on the T.N. Express knew that a tragedy was waiting to happen. With the rocking of the train and the cool winter air from some of the open windows, conversations began dying as the night wore on. By midnight, everyone was asleep, locked in the privacy of their sweet dreams or nightmares. Maami lay down on the lower berth under which were cartons of wedding paraphernalia – suitcases of saris and silver, utensils and gifts for the groom. The gold for Nitya was in a cloth bag which she safely kept under her head as a pillow. Maami was a light sleeper anyway and now sleep eluded her as she felt responsible for the entire group.
And then it happened. A boom that rattled the train and made its occupants fall out of their berths. The power shut off and piercing screams were heard. Maami screamed out the names of her loved ones. But all she got in response was Ramya’s high-pitched scream combined with voices of panic from everywhere. Soon she could smell smoke. Something was burning and as she looked out of the window she could feel and smell the smoke but couldn’t see a thing. Her first instinct was to look out for her loved ones. As she stumbled along the corridor she screamed, “Nitya, Subha, Ramya, Appa (that’s what she called Maama), Jayati,” crying out in fear. As maami made her way, a hand clasped firmly in hers. It was Ramya’s but where were the rest who were at the far end of the coupe? Maami shuddered at the thought of Subha’s two little ones. She saw a light streaming in through what seemed a door but it was fire blazing away. She ran back to the other door screaming continuously clutching Ramya for dear life. Soon, strong pairs of hands pulled them away from the fire and they were flung outside the compartment, bruised, breathless, gasping for breath and still screaming with worry.
Around them were charred bodies and from a distance she could see that more than half the train was burning. Beside her the firebrand Ramya was unconscious. There was no way to ascertain what had happened to the rest of the Nagpur group from the dim torchlights people possibly from some nearby villages were flashing inside compartments. Maami closed her eyes and called out to all her Gods, especially her favourite Ganesha. “Please keep my family safe,”she pleaded to the image in front of her eyes And then she could not feel a thing.
And when she woke up, she was in a ramshackle, run-down building with an IV running through her veins. She was on a makeshift bed on the floor and next to her was Ramya who appeared to be in deep sleep. And looking at her and saying, ‘Muruga, Muruga’ was Maama. “Where are the rest?” she shouted. Maama replied, “They are all outside, shocked but unhurt but Nitya…” he stopped and stood still.
“What happened to Nitya. Is she alright? Tell me she is okay. It’s her wedding in two days.”
“She is alive. Thank God. Though we have lost everything, she is alive and that’s what matters, said Maama leaving Maami wondering what other tragedy was waiting to unfold.