On November 26, 2008, Sulochana Lokhande and her husband were waiting for a train at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus [Images] in Mumbai [Images]. They had come to the city four days ago for a family function. The couple was to board a train to Gulbarga in Karnataka, from where they would change trains to take them home to Afzalpur.
Sulochana is 50 and has lived her entire life in Afzalpur. Thirty years ago she married a distant relative from the same town who worked as a tailor. The night of 26/11 drastically changed the regular course of their quiet and simple lives. For three months now, she has been at the JJ Hospital in south-central Mumbai and does not know when she can go back home.
On that fateful night, Sulochana and her husband were waiting at the crowded platform. It was 9 pm. Just after 9.30 pm, two murderers, later identified as Ajmal Amir Kasab [Images] and Abu Dera Ismael Khan, started firing indiscriminately with automatic weapons at the helpless passengers waiting to board their trains.
Fiftynine people died and hundreds were injured. Sulochana’s left hand was shattered and her husband was shot in the leg. Passersby and fellow passengers took the injured to the St George’s Hospital nearby. Those with serious injuries were shifted to the JJ Hospital.
At the hospital, Sulochana was admitted to special ward 35. Since her husband wasn’t badly hurt, he recovered quickly and has since returned home. Not that he wanted to desert his wife, but since his aged parents were alone in the village, he was compelled to return and look after them.
The couple does not have any children which makes it even more difficult for them.
“If I had had children this is the time they would have made a difference to me, they would have been here to help me. There is no one to look after my very old in-laws. They are totally helpless. They need someone for every little need of theirs. My husband has to look after them,” says Sulochana, weeping on the hospital bed.
Sulochana’s old mother has travelled all the way from Afzalpur to look after her daughter.
The government gave Sulochana a cheque for 50,000 as compensation which her husband has deposited in her account in their village. But the money has been of no use so far because the bank refused to release the amount till she returns home.
Meanwhile, in Mumbai, the hospital will not discharge her till her arm has healed completely. She has already had four surgeries and skin grafting procedures. Three months after the tragedy, her left hand is plastered with steel rods projecting out.
Her warm hands quiver as she grasped mine. “I have never been inside a hospital before. I have never needed to go to a hospital before. Why did this happen? Why am I in this strange city surrounded by strangers? I have been here for three months now. When will they let me go?”
She understands that in her village there is no hospital that can perform the complicated surgeries done here. But what she cannot understand is why God allowed this to happen to her.
The knowledge that nine terrorists have been killed and one is in police custody does not make it any better. She does not want revenge; all she wants is to go home and look after her in-laws and husband.
“My place is there, what am I doing here? How long do you think I have to remain here?
What makes their situation even more difficult is their uncertainty and lack of confidence of the world outside their village. The couple is so unsure that even if her husband wants to visit her, he lacks the confidence to make the journey on his own. Neither does he know how he will bring his wife home after she is discharged.
Sulochana is the only victim of the 26/11 attacks who remains at the J J Hospital. All the others have gone home.
The special ward set up for the victims has been discontinued, and she has been shifted to the women’s orthopaedic ward on the second floor.
As I take my leave, she clasps both her hands with great difficulty in a ‘namaste’. While every minute as she lies there looking at the fans which do not spin, there is only one thought that revolves in her mind — ‘Why did this happen?’