Black friday, p.1
S. Hussain Zaidi
About the Author
Praise for the book
By the Same Author
1. The Beginning
2. The Conspiracy
3. The Preparations
4. The Final Plan
5. The Worst Day
6. The Days After
7. On the Run
8. The Investigation Continues
9. Enter Bollywood
10. Prize Catches
11. The Other Teams
12. The Trial Begins
13. Yaqub Memon
14. The Helping Hand
15. The Case Continues
17. Life after Death
S. Hussain Zaidi is a Mumbai-based journalist, a veteran of investigative, crime and terror reporting. He has worked for the Asian Age, Mumbai Mirror, Mid-Day and Indian Express. His previous books include bestsellers such as Black Friday, Mafia Queens of Mumbai, Dongri to Dubai and Byculla to Bangkok. Black Friday and Dongri to Dubai have been adapted into the Bollywood films Black Friday and Shootout at Wadala respectively. He lives with his family in Mumbai.
Praise for the book
‘[Zaidi’s] writerly voice [is] that of a newspaperman: grim, controlled, often more notable for substance than style. His writing . . . displays an acute eye for emotional detail’—Mint
‘[A] taut account . . . Zaidi provides the complete picture: of the investigators who pursued the terrorists and of the people of Bombay, who handled the tragedy with rare resilience’—Business Standard
‘The crime reporter has built up a reputation for scoops and access to elusive criminals’—Time Out
‘[Black Friday puts] the entire cataclysm into perspective. Page after page of revisited horror reveals new facets of corruption, new angles to the politician–Mafia nexus’—First City
Also by the same author
Mafia Queens of Mumbai: Stories of Women from the Ganglands (with Jane Borges)
Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia
Headley and I
Byculla to Bangkok
My Name Is Abu Salem
For my parents,
Ashfaq Hussain and Khatoon Jahan
Also for the little angels who brought so much joy into my life, Kumail, Fatema, Narjis and Ammar
City Map with Bomb Sites
Maps not to scale
That the day could hold anything unusual was far from the minds of Bombay’s thirteen million people when the city woke up to the start of another sweltering day on 12 March 1993. The monsoons were still three months away, but the temperature was already 32°C and the relative humidity seventy-two per cent. As office-goers rushed to work in the city’s overcrowded trains, the heat was the favourite topic of conversation. Some discussed the national judo championship beginning that day for which nearly five hundred judokas had gathered.
A large percentage of the office-goers were headed for the Fort area in southern Bombay, the commercial heart of not only the city, but of the country as well. This small area, named after the British fort that once stood there, grew into the commercial hub early in the eighteenth century. Today it houses the headquarters of several banks, including the Reserve Bank of India(RBI), and large corporate houses besides the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), the oldest stock exchange in Asia and the largest in the country. Business worth hundreds of crores was transacted at the BSE every day.
Despite the heat, it was work as usual on Dalal Street, often called Bombay’s Wall Street. The frangipani drooped visibly in the nearby St Thomas’s Cathedral, but the prospect of the weekend had not yet cast its ennui over the milling crowds within the stock exchange. This Friday the trading ring on the BSE’s first floor was packed with about 4,000 people. Friday was the day of badla trading, when residual shares are disposed of before the stock exchange shuts operations for the weekend.
At lunchtime Dalal Street, and the surrounding area, transforms itself into a food paradise, guaranteed to satisfy all stomachs and wallets. The choices range from mounds of yellow rice, dosas turning a crisp brown in the large griddle, chaat, heaps of noodles with white sauce, piping hot toasted sandwiches and paav-bhaji. At the junction of every footpath, jostling for space with pedestrians and sandwich-makers, are peanut vendors and fruitwala bhaiyyas with gravity-defying pyramids of fruits seldom seen in the regular market.
Trading closed at 1.30 p.m. There was a bell at 1 p.m., which signalled the last half-hour of trading and was often the cue for people not involved in trading to leave the building for lunch. A second bell would be sounded half an hour later to signal the end of trading. By this time, most of the people would have left the trading hall.
On that Friday, what was heard at 1.28 p.m. was not the shrill ring of the BSE bell but a muffled boom.
To the people milling around outside, eating lunch, the scene before them transformed suddenly from the familiar to the unimaginable. Smoke drifted out from the BSE’s basement; blood-splattered survivors trickled out of the building. The Bank of Baroda branch on the ground floor was blown apart. Around them, a few of their fellow-eaters and food vendors on the roadside were also killed from the impact of the bomb.
The force of the explosion carried right up to the tenth floor, where the windowpanes shattered. Mild tremors were felt up to a radius of 300 metres, and the sound carried over the busy hum of traffic to the Victoria Terminus (VT) a kilometre away. The cheek-by-jowl buildings in the densely populated area around the BSE, some of them dating back to the early half of the century, were shaken by the explosion.
Inside the BSE, the scene was chaotic. Most of the people in the basement and mezzanine had been killed. The roof of the underground car park had caved in, flattening vehicles and trapping men. The state-of-the-art EPABX system, costing Rs 1.5 crore and the lifeline of the stock exchange, had broken like a toy.
The first thought of those who survived was to get to safety. The lifts were still running and stairways were intact. The result was a stampede—several men and women were injured and crushed to death in the panic. Some people on the seventh floor used the drainage pipes to slide down.
Outside the BSE, the street was covered in a macabre mosaic of blood, limbs, glass and share application forms. The mounds of food, so attractive just minutes ago, were now splattered with the remains of people’s bodies.
Twenty-six-year-old Babu Murty had heard that Bombay was the city of gold and that if he worked hard, one day he could have his own clothing store. He ran a sandwich and samosa stall outside the BSE on weekdays. On weekends, when Dalal Street was deserted, he hawked T-shirts near the Gateway of India. But despite his spirit and grit, he didn’t stand a chance. He was killed almost instantly as flying shards of glass and debris pierced his body. He was rushed to the state-run Jamshed Jeejeebhoy (JJ) Hospital in Byculla but it was too late.
Four brothers of a migrant family from northern India ran a sugarcane juice stall near the BSE. The fifth brother returned shortly after the blast to find his siblings lying in a pool of blood. They did not live the short distance to the Gokuldas Tejpal (GT) Hospital, run by the city corporation.
Fifty-one-year-old Gokulchand Gupta had run a panipuri stall, one of the oldest in the area, for thirteen years. He and his family had moved
Raju, an upma vendor from Mandya in Karnataka; Ashok Singh and Kamla Singh from UP who had a lassi stall; Guddu Paav-bhaji Wala, who was a big hit with stockbrokers: all migrants who had come to Bombay with hopes and dreams died in the blast.
Rita Dennis, who worked at the Graphica Printers Office close to the BSE, had decided to go down and buy the afternoon papers herself instead of sending the peon as she usually did. She didn’t live to read it. She left behind two young children: Meldon, eleven, and Renita, six. It would take her husband, Matthew, years to come to terms with her death.
Ashok Dashrath Ghadge, a vada-paav vendor outside the BSE, was serving a customer when he felt the ground shake beneath him. That was the last thing he registered; when he came to he found himself at GT Hospital, thankful to God that he had been spared.
Twenty-two-year-old Mukesh Khatri had gone to deposit a cheque at the Bank of Baroda branch in the BSE. The queue extended outside the bank, and he was waiting there when he heard a boom that threw him on the road. ‘There were pieces of glass flying all around, many were embedded in my body, and my face,’ he recounted. People stamped all over him in their frenzy to run out. He finally got up, soaked in his own blood, and walked all the way to GT Hospital, more than a kilometre away. The hospital was full so they sent him to JJ Hospital. At least he lived to tell the tale.
This blast caused the death of eighty-four people; as many as 217 were injured, some severely.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Chandrashekhar Rokade, in charge of Zone I, which came under what the police called the south region of the city, covering the area from Cuffe Parade and Colaba to Malabar Hill, Peddar Road, Dongri and Nagpada, and included the BSE, was in the Bombay High Court. He was attending the legal proceedings relating to a controversial Shiv Sena leader from Thane, Anand Dighe. When Rokade heard the distant rumble, he thought that it was caused by Shiv Sainiks assembled in strength at the court premises. But then his walkie-talkie crackled into life: ‘There’s been a blast in the share market.’
Police Commissioner (CP) Amarjeet Singh Samra had just begun his lunch in his anteroom at the Bombay Police Commissionerate building in the police headquarters complex near Crawford Market, the lively and centrally located vegetable and fruit market. The twenty-third police chief of Bombay since Independence, Samra had held this post for about six weeks. He was known for his flamboyance, accessibility and the sheer competence with which he did his job, and had worked with police departments and law enforcement agencies across the world.
His personal assistant, M.Y. Ramani, and liaison officer, Sub-inspector (SI) Shirish Sawant, barged in as he was eating. Sawant said, ‘Sir, control has informed us that there was a blast in the share market.’ Samra strode over to his desk and called his joint commissioner of police (JCP) (crime), the second in the police hierarchy, Mahesh Narayan Singh.
Singh’s office was in another of the three buildings in the police headquarters complex. The stone building of the crime branch offices were known as Patherwali.
Singh too had just heard of the blast and was about to leave for the spot. Samra instructed him to keep him posted.
Though the police headquarters were within walking distance of the BSE, it took Singh twenty-five minutes to get there by car. By this time it was almost 2 p.m. Crowds had gathered in a manner that only immense calamity can summon. Singh entered the basement car park, and it required all the strength gathered from three decades of police experience not to be overcome by the scene of devastation that greeted him.
He would carry the memory of that scene to his last day: mangled cars with shattered windscreens, splotches of blood in macabre patterns on the walls and the reverberating moans of the injured. Blue-uniformed fire brigade personnel and green-clad bomb squad members were moving about with amazing agility looking for survivors.
The police at the scene had until then concentrated on keeping curious onlookers at bay. Under Singh’s supervision, they started organizing rescue teams, and made arrangements to transport survivors to hospitals. A Bombay Electrict Supply and Transport (BEST) bus soon wormed its way into the narrow lane.
The city’s chief fire officer, Durgadas Kulkarni, had reached the spot too, and he began to coordinate his men’s work. The public joined in the rescue work. The injured and the dead were transported to the three nearby hospitals, GT Hospital, the corporation-run St George Hospital and JJ Hospital.
The hospitals, however, lacked disaster management strategies, and found it enormously difficult to cope with the sudden influx of so many grievously injured patients. The dead were dumped on the floor of the casualty ward, while those alive were propped up against the walls next to them. Faced with such an immense task, the staff had no idea where to begin.
At 2.15 p.m., a bomb went off in the middle of Bombay’s largest wholesale market for grain and spice, at Narsi Natha Street in Katha Bazaar, near Masjid Bunder. This is perhaps the most congested area in the city, where trucks, handcarts and pedestrians jostle for space in the narrow streets. Two cabs, parked side by side, suddenly went up in a ball of fire.
A teenager and his father were passing by when they got caught in the explosion. The father died on the spot. The boy’s lungs were shattered. A telephone booth nearby caught fire, but this was extinguished quickly.
Five people were killed in this blast, and sixteen injured. Several vehicles were damaged, as were shops and offices in the vicinity.
Rokade, whose jurisdiction also included Katha Bazaar, was still in the High Court when he heard about the second blast. He longed to be out on the streets, dealing with the situation, but he knew the matter at hand had to be resolved first.
Rokade left the courtroom for a moment and was pacing down the corridors, mulling over the two explosions, when he felt the ground under him tremble. A loud noise rent the air. An orderly rushed out of the courtroom with a message from the presiding judge that Rokade should return instantly. The proceedings were suspended. Rokade escorted the van carrying Dighe to Carnac Bunder Road, and then asked his driver to head towards the BSE.
At 2.25 p.m., a car bomb had exploded in the portico of the high-rise Air-India building, about a kilometre from the High Court. The Air-India building is near Nariman Point, south Bombay’s most elite business district where major international companies, foreign banks and consulates are located. The Bank of Oman branch on the ground floor of the building, outside which the blast had occurred, was gutted. Experts were to later conclude that this was a more powerful blast than the earlier ones, the noise carrying to Ballard Pier, 2.5 kilometres away. Twenty people were killed in this blast, and eighty-seven injured. The toll was rising at frightening speed.
News of the third blast caused panic, and wild rumours began to circulate. There had been an invasion from across the seas, some insisted. Others claimed, with equal conviction, that the top brass of the Shiv Sena was being killed. Overburdened telephone lines jammed, heightening the chaos. Office workers spilled on to the streets, heading for Churchgate and VT, the city’s two main railway hubs. Policemen were not immune to panic themselves. The city was on the run from itself.
Back in the Commissionerate, Samra called up Additional Commissioner of Police (Addl. CP) P.K.B. Chakraborty, and dispatched him to the Air-India building. At the BSE, Singh had by then heard of the latest blast, which he thought was the second one, as he had not heard of the Katha Bazaar explosion. He got into his car and hurried towards the site, followed by Kulkarni, the fire chief, and the bomb squad.
At 2.30 p.m., a blast shook Lucky Petrol Pump adjacent to Sena Bhavan at Dadar in the centre of the city. The Bhavan is the headquarters of the Shiv Sena, the party widely held responsible for the communal riots of the previous mo
John Thomas, an employee of New Mika Laminates near Worli, was killed. He had called his wife Sophaiya when he heard about the blast at the BSE, before he left his Worli office to deliver a cheque at Indian Oil Corporation at Sewri, to reassure her. After making the delivery, he had gone to the petrol pump to refuel his Hero Honda motorcycle before he returned to the office. He had just crossed the petrol pump to the other side, near Sena Bhavan, an attendant said. Thomas could be identified only by the crucifix on his gold chain and his wedding ring.
The terrorist designs seemed to have failed, as Sena Bhavan was unharmed, as were Sena men. However, four people died and fifty were injured in the explosion. This blast also seemed to indicate the communal designs of the bombers. As irate Shiv Sainiks spilled on the streets, the situation looked perilously close to spinning out of control.
At 2.55 p.m., a bomb seemed to go off in a crowded double-decker BEST bus outside the regional passport office (RPO) at Worli. It was so powerful that that the five-ton bus was lifted into the air, and the upper deck blown into the hutment colony of Nehru Nagar. Residents panicked as pieces of metal and bodies rained down on them. There were no survivors on board; not even the bodies could be identified. The body of the driver was hurtled across the road into the colony. Vehicles around the bus too caught fire, and four buildings—Rupala Sadan, Ramodaya Mansion, Malkani Mahal and Manjrekar Sadan—along the road, which housed shops and an Udipi restaurant, were badly damaged. Many buildings in the area had their windowpanes shattered, including the RPO, the Brown Boweri building and Century Bhavan. On the road, a deep crater marked the spot where the bomb had exploded.