Mothers wailing, children die
Two families, same tragedy
|VISHVENDU JAIPURIAR AND PRADUMAN CHOUBEY|
Nov. 22: No words can be as searing as children screaming "mummy, mummy", engulfed by fire and smoke.
No shock can be as numbing as a mother's realisation that her child, no more than four years old, was not with her when she was swept out by a stampede.
Two young mothers, several passengers and many others will be battling these demons for the rest of their lives as they try to come to terms with the Doon Express fire in which seven persons were killed around 2.30am on Tuesday.
The mothers — Anu Devi Thakur and Shabnam Ali — screamed for help to save their two daughters — Archita, 4, and Jubi, 8 — who were trapped inside an AC three-tier coach of the Howrah-Dehradun Express, popularly known as the Doon Express.
The children could not be saved and their names figured on the casualty list that included a 26-year-old dentist, Anumita Singh, and an Australian woman identified as S.K. Alanna, 22. Usha Nagor, a 56-year-old lady from Patuli in Calcutta, also died.
Anu, a 30-year-old homemaker who hails from Ranchi but lives in Asansol, and her daughter Archita were on their way to Lucknow to attend the wedding of Anu's niece. Her husband Ajay Thakur, the Asansol unit manager of an insurance company, was supposed to join them later as he could not get leave.
Around 2.30am, when the train was nearing Parasnath in Jharkhand's Giridih, 55km from Dhanbad, a noise jolted Anu out of sleep in Coach B1, she recalled today.
Anu saw thick smoke all around and, feeling suffocated, stood up and headed towards the door when she realised that Archita, who was sleeping beside her, had not yet woken up.
Anu tried to rush back but it was too late and she was caught in the crush of people trying to escape the smoke.
"Main bahar aayi aur tab mujhe pata laga ki meri beti andar reh gayi.… woh andar choot gayi (I came out and then realised that my daughter was still inside... she had been left behind)," Anu, still in a state of shock, told The Telegraph.
A relative said in Asansol that according to information he had gathered over the phone, Anu was in the toilet when the fire broke out and was swept out before she could reach the child.
"She opened the toilet door and saw people rushing out of the train. She desperately tried to enter the compartment to reach her daughter, but she was caught in the rush of people trying to get out," said Jaiprakash Narain Mishra, the husband of Ajay's sister.
Injured in the stampede, Anu was admitted to a hospital in Gomoh, less than 18km from the site, and later left for hometown Ranchi.
A passenger said he recalled Anu screaming for help. "She was crying, 'Koi to bacha lo meri Archita ko(someone please save my daughter Archita)'," the passenger said.
Moved by her plight, Suraj Sao, who lives in the nearby Rosnakunda village, where the train stopped after passengers pulled the chain, tried to enter coach B1. "We tried to go inside but could not because of the thick smoke and fire," Sao said.
"Archita was their only child. She had started going to nursery class in a local school. Who would know that such a tragedy would occur?" Mishra said.
PTI quoted Minati, a passenger who lives in Raiganj in North Dinajpur, as saying she heard children cry "Mummy, Mummy".
"I cannot erase the cries. There was fire in one part of the coach. I heard the children cry 'Mummy! Mummy!' Their mothers also ran around crying for help. It will haunt me throughout my life," a sobbing Minati said after arriving at Howrah station with 11 other injured passengers.
The child who died was Jubi, daughter of Shabnam, 28, from Malda.
If professional responsibilities kept Ajay away from his daughter when disaster struck, the distribution of tickets ensured that Jubi's father Akram, a 31-year-old armyman, was in the adjoining B2 coach, which also caught fire.
The couple had boarded the train at Howrah with their two daughters. While the two children and their mother were allotted berths 31 and 32 in B1, Akram managed a berth in B2. The family was bound for Haridwar, from where they were to make their way to Raiwala, where Akram was posted.
"As soon as I saw thick smoke, I realised there was a fire and moved to the next coach to first rescue my younger daughter, who is five," said Akram. He took her to coach A1, as Shabnam followed.
However, when Akram tried to rush back to Jubi, the flames had engulfed B1 and other passengers, fearing for his life, prevented him from plunging headlong into the coach. "I rushed to bring back my elder daughter but I couldn't, and now I have lost her for ever," Akram said and broke down.
"I still can't forget the face of the lady (Shabnam) who was wailing," D.D. Tripathi, a B1 passenger and a scientist with the Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research (CIMFR), said in Dhanbad this afternoon.
"I was adjusting the bed roll and getting ready to sleep when a woman from the middle of the compartment rushed towards the door shouting that someone save her daughter from the fire," said Tripathi, who added that he woke up some passengers who were unaware of the fire.
Anumita, the dentist, was on her way to Dehra Dun with her husband, Neeraj Gour, as he had received an offer from a hospital there. Neeraj, who specialises in community medicine, worked at a medical college in Bengal. Anumita hails from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh while her husband's family lives in Gwalior.