“Iska naam Aakash hai, isne kaali shirt pehni thi….kisi ne dekha isey (His name is Aakash, he was wearing a black shirt. Did anyone see him?” asked a middle-aged man as he frantically ran along the corridors of Guru Nanak Dev Hospital in Amritsar, with a photograph in his phone, ignoring the authorities’ suggestion to check the room where bodies have been kept on the floor. “I have already visited three hospitals. First, I will check the wards. Why should I check the bodies? He is not dead,” he asserted. Follow Amritsar train accident live updates.
Around midnight, few hours after the Dussehra festivities turned into a bloodbath when a train mowed down hundreds of people gathered for Raavan Dahan at Jora Phatak, there was a frantic search for the loved ones as the administration struggled to accommodate the injured, police tried to complete ‘kagazi karwai’ (paperwork) and the number of bodies kept increasing.
“I had told him not to go. I had stopped him from going close to the railway tracks. It was unsafe,” cried Mukesh Kumar (54) as he waited for the body of his son Neeraj (19) outside the ‘dressing room’ which was converted into a mortuary to accommodate the bodies. “Amritsar has witnessed another Jallianwala Bagh like massacre. This is going to stay forever,” he added.
“There is no ice… there are no gloves, no masks…. we have been asking the officials to make some arrangements. If not a proper mortuary, can’t they even get us some ice, gloves and masks… doctors here are not ready to touch the bodies. They complained of foul smell emanating from it. They are asking us to search the bodies for ID proofs or some documents,” said Shubham Sharma, a volunteer from ‘Your Blood Can Save Life’. “Can someone get the ice, please?” he yelled. After hearing his plea, a group of volunteers arrived with slabs of ice on stretchers. “And now, how will it be broken? There is no sua (ice pick),” another volunteer said.
At least 19 bodies remained on the floor in the makeshift mortuary of Guru Nanak Dev Hospital. “Eight of them have been identified but others have missing body parts. One is also without a head. A one-year-old girl and her mother are also among them. This train came like a Raavan for our city,” Rupak, a volunteer, said.
On the next floor, outside the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) around 1 am, Janki learnt that her brother-in-law Thakur Prasad (40) was no more. “He never used to go to watch Raavan Dahan. Yesterday, it was for the first time that he had gone. After hearing the news on TV, we started calling him. A doctor received the call and said he is serious. His wife fainted after hearing about his death,” she said. “His two friends with whom he had gone also died in the incident,” she added.
“Laash ko neeche lekar chalo. Apne waarison ko bulao,” a cop told Janki while referring to the body wrapped in a blood-soaked cloth.
At 2.46 am, it was time for ‘kaagazi karwaai’ (paperwork) for Prasad’s family. “Iski lambaai kitni thi? Rang kaisa tha? Chehra gol tha ya lamba (What is his height? What was the colour of his skin? Was his face round?” asked sub-inspector Parkash Singh.
“It’s our work. We have to finish the paperwork fast so that the families can take the bodies home after the autopsy. It is heart-breaking but we have to do it,” Singh said.
Around 3 am, Gurjit Singh and Surjit Singh wasn’t done for the day. A kettle with steaming tea and paranthas in hand, they are trying to ensure everyone has something to eat. “Our langar will go on the entire night. We are trying to make families eat something. It is not easy to struggle in empty stomach,” Gurjit said.
Walking with a stick in hand, Tarjit Singh (76) does not break down. The body of his nephew, Balbir Singh (40), comes out on a stretcher and he only tries to keep pace with it. “He has three children. We are yet to tell his wife that he is no more. If I will break down, who will handle the family? I am the eldest member of the family and I cannot afford to break down,” he said, as he sat inside the ambulance next to the body.
Blood donors continued to pour in even as volunteers explained that sufficient units were available and that they will be informed whenever required. At 3.13 am, Balbir Behl and Kamal Sharma, two businessmen, wait in the queue to donate blood. “Our people, our city has suffered a major blow today. If our blood can save even one life, we are ready to stand here for hours,” Behl said. A volunteer arrives, notes down their phone number and asks them to wait for a call the following morning.
“We have 15 senior resident doctors on duty, besides the entire nursing staff and students. We had enough gloves, masks and everything else. There has been no problem in managing the bodies or injured,” Dr Amandeep, an emergency medical officer on duty, said. “The bodies were kept on the floor temporarily. After identification, they are being shifted for an autopsy,” he added.
At 3.45 am, the siren of ambulances continue to break the silence of the night. “This train sliced several humans like sheep and goats. Bhed-bakriyon ki tarah kaat ti chali gai….. Mere bhai ko khaa gai… (The train ate my brother),” Ashok Kumar said as the body of his cousin Deepak (18), which was found in two pieces, was assembled and handed over to the family.