The photos I posted on 20th December last year were all shot in the immediate vicinity of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Central Railway Station in Mumbai. Inside the station photographing was prohibited, as my guide cautiously indicated to me, so we went inside through a dirty understreet passage and just strolled around. It was Sunday morning and I was on a day trip to Mumbai down-town. My guide was a kind young doctor, born and living in Mumbai, whose name I unfortunately can not remember anymore. The day was sunny and hot, and the humid air on the streets was sweet and heavy, polluted by exhaust gases; but inside the station I immediately sensed the smell of tracks and trains, the smell that I liked since my childhood and which for a brief moment filled me with joy. The station was pretty much empty, an unusual situation comparing to other days of the week. This was one of the busiest railway stations in India; on all other days it was always full of people. When Ajmal Kasab and Ismail Khan walked in the station on the evening of 26th November 2008 and opened fire from their kalashnikovs, the place was packed full. They fired at the crowd of unarmed people, threw grenades on police officers and killed and severely injured more than 150 persons. When they left the building the platform I was standing on was covered with dead and dying people.
After the attacks Mumbai police prohibited unauthorised photographing inside the station and increased the security measures. I noticed two police officers sitting at the table in one corner near the main gate and stepped closer, curious to see what they were doing. Maybe they will somehow allow me to take photos anyway? As I neared them I saw that they were inspecting their automatic rifles. One weapon lay on the table, and the officer was checking the leather belt. They seemed not to be paying any attention to me. I stood there watching them for some time, until I realized that the muzzle of the weapon was pointed directly to my belly. I stepped aside.
As I was looking around it occurred to me that I was unconsciously looking for blood stains on the floor. I was standing in the middle of a broad platform surrounded by several people waiting for their trains. In front of me there were old trains with bars on the windows and special wagons reserved only for women (always the first ones – was it the sign of respect in one apparently segregating act?). Few fishermen from the suburbs passed by carrying fresh fish in bowls above their heads, children were chasing each other, sun rays were streaking through the ceiling windows high above. In my conciousness I noticed all this, but in the same time I knew that it was not what I was looking for, the present was like a curtain that I tried whole time to pull away, to see behind it. I was actually looking for blood and dead bodies, searching for bullet holes in the walls, imagining the moment when shootings started, trying to hear the explosions and screams of the victims. I was standing in a slaughter field amidst tens of dead bodies. I felt a tension in my belly, right there where the muzzle of that police officer’s rifle was pointed to just a few moments ago. All of a sudden my desire to make photos seemed deeply inappropriate. I desperately wanted to come back to reality, to forget the horror that happened here one year ago, but it was impossible. My guide asked me if I want him to try to get a permission to make some photos, but I refused. I had enough.
As we were hurrying towards one of the exits on the other end I was thinking that there actually must be many places on the face of the Earth where people died violently. Millions of years of evolution of genus Homo are immensely long time. Thousands and thousands of places were soaked in blood and covered with dead human bodies. So many of our predecessors lived and died without a trace, decayed and forever disappeared everywhere on this planet. Had I believed in ghosts I would have to accept that they were “living” with us now everywhere, in every corner of the only world we know, inhabiting every house and every home in hundreds. But I do not believe in ghosts, and neither in God. I do not think that one continues to live after death in some other form, and that a life has a purpose not revealed to us. I am convinced that we all have only this one life, and that life itself is the highest value. And when I stand in the place where I KNOW that many people lost their lives in a violent way putty , killed in the name of “higher” purpose, I feel frightened. Murdering a human being is like destroying a world. Our duty is to preserve life and minimise suffering. Nothing else. We are all brothers and sisters, and we do not need any religion to see it, if we just bother to think.
There was an old-fashioned scale short before the exit from the station. It bore the text “EASTERN SCALES” on it, a platform to stand on, and an opening for inserting coins. My guide urged me with a smile to step on it and measure my weight. I complied absentmindedly. After a short while the machine spat out a small yellowish card. On one side it read “HEALTH CARD – KILOGRAMS 92 – KEEP FIT – EASTERN SCALES – 49434”. It was wrong. My weight was 82. I turned the other side and read the personal message under the title “BUY YOUR OWN TICKET”: “You will emerge triumphant from your most serious reverses. A happy and comfortable old age”. As we emerged from the station to the sunny street I wondered how many nameless victims of Kasab and Khan got that very same message on the day they were murdered.
To all known and unknown friends.putty