Rajan was having a happy day. After a long time, he was going back to meet his wife Sudipta. As a technician at Fortis Hospital, Kolkata he rarely found the time to go back to Tamil Nadu to meet his family. But it was a special occasion. It was their third marriage anniversary, and he had planned to surprise Sudipta by coming home.
Rajan had bought a beautiful dress and her favorite sweet from Kolkata. Thinking of the reaction Sudipta would have from seeing him, Rajan tingled with excitement. And he had to be honest, being so far from her was tough. They had cried when he had left. Still, he had to make enough money so that the family could break bread. Sitting by the window with a gentle breeze wafting in, it would only be a matter of a few hours before he reached home.
Twisting off the cap of the cold bottle of water he had bought on the train to beat the extreme heat, he took a few gulps to cool himself down and placed the bottle on the table next to the window. A few seconds later the train went over a bump and the bottle fell. As Rajan leaned forward to pick up the bottle, he felt the train oscillate violently. Somehow managing to keep his balance, he clenched the window railing with a tight grip.
Unaware of what had just happened, but aware that the oscillations were increasing, Rajan felt as if the train was about to roll off the rails. Frightened, he stuck his face out of the window, and tried to see what was happening. Numbness engulfed his body as he saw the Grim Reaper staring at him from the edge of the cargo train that was about to collide with Rajan’s train.
The road of the trains hitting each other stilled the buzz of the busy people circling the station. Suddenly air filled with smoke and agonizing cries rang out. The accident was so massive that the crowd seemed frozen – unable to think of any action to help the victims. Rajan himself was lying on the track with a partially fractured cranium, looking at the box of sweets that was burning in front of his eyes. As he began to lose consciousness, he hoped that his life wasn’t over yet. As the thought played in his mind he heard an increasing gabble from the crowd. He turned his head slowly and saw another train racing towards him.
Indian Railways is the most accessible form of transportation available to India’s large population. Being easy and affordable to those who cannot afford other options, the railways are a boon. The shaking compartments hold many people with aspirations, emotions, sentiments, and hope. But what happens when the vehicle of hope falls into a web of death? When the boon becomes a curse? One such curse happened in the heartland of Odisha on 2nd June 2023 when three trains collided with each other at Bahanaga Baazar Station, Balasore.
A freight train was stationed on a loop of track. People were tapping their feet as they stood at the station. Trains were coming back and forth. It seemed like a general day. But what happened next drenched the day with the blood of many innocent people.
Train 12841, the Coromandel Express (a flagship train of the Indian Railways) was traveling from Shalimar Express with almost 1,300 people on board on its way to Tamil Nadu. The train started at 3:20 pm and was scheduled to reach Coromandel at 4:35 pm – 25 hours. But fate had other plans. Another train traveling from Yashwantpur to Howrah, train 12864 with around 1200 passengers, started its journey at 10:35 am. It was scheduled to arrive at 8:00 pm but was delayed by 3 hours. Both trains were scheduled to pass through Balasore. The way they met causes a shiver to run down the spine.
Racing along at 130 KM an hour, the Coromandel Express was not scheduled to stop at Bahanga. The passing winds caressed the metal body when a few compartment cars slipped at the Bahanaga Station, causing the train to lose its balance and jump from the track. The unstable train then ran into the freight train that was in the middle of the track, causing passengers to jump off the train and save their threatened lives.
Local people who were watching in shock were about to lend a hand when the Yashantwapur Express (which was unaware of the crash at the station for technical reasons) slammed into the metal bodies of the two trains that has collided. The lives of approximately 250 people ended in pain and trauma in a fraction of a minute.
The entire scene looked like a canvas of burning red, with black crusty smoke wafting up into the air. When night fell the number of deaths stood at 30, with 400 injured. But as the sun came up the number had risen to 300 deaths and more than 900 injured. Local people looked on in disbelief. They were unable to describe the incident but their eyes spoke of the horror they had witnessed. Debris had been flung 500 meters from the accident. Rail lines had pierced through the compartments of the train.
Was it an accident? Who is to blame? Should the government be responsible for the death toll? There are many questions to be answered. However, the real question remains – what will those answers be worth? The answers will not bring back the lives of the dead or heal the injured people lying on hospital beds trying to reach out to their families. They will never erase the trauma that lingers in the hearts of the victims or the many others who travel every day in trains.
But in every spectrum of black, there is a strand of light. Just after the accident was reported, many people from across Odisha state joined hands and came to help. Crowds stood outside hospitals the entire night, standing patiently to donate blood and assist victims. The queues were longer than the train itself. People selflessly arrived with food, health kits, and relief kits. When the news reached everyone in India and beyond, on the morning of 3rd June 2023, the response was overwhelming.
There comes a time when humanity is put to the test and June 2 was one such day. Two trains full of people from different states, religions, gender, and castes suffered from a tragedy they never thought possible. People from different states, countries, religions, and ethnicities came forward to help.
In such moments it feels as if we humans are not as cruel and self-centered as we are made out to be. Somewhere between our race with time and hunger for money lives a selfless child who sheds a tear over the sorrow of others. Somewhere among the voices of hatred and despair lives a gentle murmur of hope.
Posted By Rohit Samal
Posted Jun 11th, 2023