- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

BOMBAY — Even for crowded, chaotic Bombay, where troubles can descend like plagues, the disaster was shocking: a series of train cars ripped apart by bombs, with more than 200 people dead and more than 700 wounded.

But this is a city of migrants and strivers. Poor farmers try to earn a few rupees carrying dirt through construction sites. Movie-star wannabes struggle to break into Bollywood. Ambitious MBAs look to make their millions. And thousands more people arrive every day, searching for their own place in a city of 16 million.

So within hours of the Tuesday bombings, Bombay was getting back to work. Early trains ran half-empty Wednesday but grew increasingly crowded as the hours passed. The Bombay Stock Exchange opened as usual — and closed up 3 percent.

By Thursday, except for the pockets of anguish scattered across the city in the homes of the dead and injured, it was difficult to see that anything had happened.

“It’s hard to live in this city,” said Vinod Chaudhury, a young salesman who grew up poor — his father was a low-level government clerk — earned a business degree and now jets around India selling car parts. “If you want to get ahead, you need to keep working.”

Thursday morning, on the rush-hour trains into the city center, the second-class cars were packed as tightly as ever.

Crowds milled at the busiest stations, and men (women ride in their own “ladies cars”) battled their way aboard in quiet shoving matches. Young men pushed into spots near open doorways, where they could hang out the side of the moving trains and catch the breeze, escaping, just a bit, the choking crush of humanity and humidity.

To live here is to learn to be tough. According to the World Bank, more than half of Bombay resides in slums, filling vast stretches of metal and plastic shanties. Power outages are common, even in many exclusive neighborhoods, and water shortages are widespread.

When disaster strikes, it can strike hard: Last year’s monsoon rains killed 429 persons in floods and landslides. In 1993, Muslim underworld figures tied to Pakistani militants were purportedly behind a series of bombings that struck Bombay’s stock exchange along with city trains, hotels and gas stations. Those bombs killed 257 persons and wounded more than 1,100.

Less than two weeks ago, Bombay became a traffic-snarled disaster as — once again — the annual rains left waist-high floods in many streets.

“For five days this city was under water and people kept going to work,” said Jayanti Lal, a retired bank worker.

Mr. Lal spoke Wednesday from a bench overlooking the funeral pyre of his brother, Dalpathbhai, a 53-year-old railway clerk. Bombay, also known as Mumbai, is largely Hindu like much of India, and the religion calls for the dead to be cremated.

Asked if he was surprised — or perhaps hurt — that the city would go back to business so soon after the tragedy, he scoffed.

“This is the Bombay life,” he said. His concerns were for his family: His brother left behind a son but not enough money to keep him in college. “The families are consoled for a day or two, but they have to suffer for their entire lives,” he said.

For some here, such suffering is the reality — and the outward return to normalcy is simply a facade.

Bombay “is scarred and scared, and there’s something which is kind of festering in the subterranean regions of their hearts and minds,” said Mahesh Bhatt, a moviemaker and major player in Bollywood, the city’s film world.

“What you see as a brave face is also a way of denying” the pain of the tragedy, he said.

Certainly the pain is there.

Shankar Prabhu Patel, a broad-chested man with a cigarette dangling from his hand, spends his days preparing funeral pyres at a cremation ground on the fringes of a poor Bombay neighborhood. His workload has more than doubled since the attacks.

“It was really sad to hear about the bombings,” he said. “But as soon as I heard about it I knew it would be very busy, and we’d have so many people here.”

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