Dec 1, 2008

India - Calm announcer saved thousands of lives

Meena Menon

‘I had no doubt it was a bomb blast’

‘There was no stampede or rush and no one got hurt’

MUMBAI: It is not only policemen in the city who have left memories of their heroics. What Vishnu Zende, 37, an announcer at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), did that fateful night helped save the lives of thousands of commuters. “I was on evening duty at the station and around 10 p.m. I heard loud noises like a blast coming from the other side where the long-distance trains are. I had no doubt it was a bomb blast but we had no way of checking,” said Mr. Zende.

The glass-fronted announcer’s cabin, a small affair with plywood partitions, is above the station master’s office on the main concourse. “After the blast, I heard sounds of firing and I saw people running into the local train section. Many were hurt and had blood all over them. I immediately announced that the railway police should go to the mainline section from where the noises were coming. After that I made repeated announcements to people to vacate the station from the entrance on platform number 1, which is next to the main road,” said Mr. Zende, who has been an announcer for 10 years, four of them at the CST.

Soon, the suburban section was emptied of people and the motormen who had driven the trains sought shelter in the guard section at the end of each train. “I heard the sounds of firing and realised this was something big, it was not merely a blast. We should stop people from dying at least, I thought. Soon, people who were puzzled by this calm announcement went out of the platform. There was no stampede or rush and no one got hurt,” he said.

“I was happy I had ensured at least the safety of those commuters,” remarked Mr. Zende. “Once the concourse was empty, I felt reassured and safe,” he said.

However, soon the two terrorists walked in firing from their machine guns. “They came and stood right before our cabin. One of them had a bag in front and one on his back. He came inside the station, sat down and reloaded his gun and threw his bag down. They started firing at the cabin and one of the bullets went through the glass front and exited from the plywood partition,” he recounted.

The firing changed things and they cowered on the floor. The lights were on and one of the men inside wanted to go to the toilet. When he moved, the terrorists fired on him and the bullet narrowly missed him. “After the long burst of firing, we heard no noise for a while. We realised that they must have gone out of the station. But we could not move. We stayed put, informing our higher officials about the developments till 2 a.m. on Thursday when we were allowed to come out,” he said.

“My main aim was to stop the commuters from panicking,” he said. Mr. Zende was commended by the Railway authorities for his presence of mind and is to be feted.

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