It's just another day for Mumbai's [ Images ] commuters, who travel via the megacity's iconic Chatrapatti Shivaji Terminus, before they hear the breaking news of Pakistani gunman Kasab's [ Images ] death sentence being announced. Writes Nithya Ramani
People rush in and hurry out, not really bothered by the significance the place and the man had 18 months ago. While the section of the station for local trains is bustling with people, there is no sign of anticipation, like they don't even know that today is the day the convicted prisoner will hear his verdict.
The security, too, is scarce, while security in the rest of the city is beefed up as a safety measure, in case something goes wrong.
As you move towards the long-distance trains' section of the station, you sense restlessness in the air. You find more police security, as well as commandos, who are apparently not that vigilant.
Media channels are there to capture the mood of the passersby, and to ask them about the lone terrorist caught on the night of November 26, 2008. Probably because of the presence of cameras and journalists, people vaguely have an idea of what the pandemonium is about.
They surround the cameras and journalists for their few seconds of fame. All you can hear them say is, "He should be hanged," "What are they waiting for? Another 26/11?" and "We have spent crores on him," and "We don't think he deserves to live and enjoy the attention."
Emotions are diverse and aplenty: people cry, others burst into rage. Those genuinely affected recollect the day, while those hungry for publicity create a commotion for the camera's attention.
It is just past 1 pm and, as you wait for Kasab's verdict, you notice that the security has loosened up and the atmosphere is quite relaxed. Just then a fellow journalist says, "Do you know that one of the luggage scanners doesn't even work? There are two at the entrances, and only one works. It is there just to scare the public."
The president of the Mumbai Youth Association, an NGO, Pradeep Bhavnani seems glad to have a platform to express his feelings. He says, "I am from no political party, nor do I have any political lineage." He has brought with him a huge bag of fire-crackers, sweets and biscuits, to be distributed in the station, once the 'predictable' verdict is announced.
It is past 2:30 pm when the media is alerted that Kasab has been awarded the death penalty, and will be "hanged by the neck till death." The first reactions are shouts and chants of "Vande Mataram" and "Bharat Mata Ki Jai."
As Bhavnani proceeds to the exit to burst his fire crackers, Mohammad Taufiq Sheikh, an eyewitness who works as a tea vendor outside CST near St Joseph's hospital, distributes free tea to all the commuters who lay down waiting for their trains.
Sheikh claims to have got a glimpse of Kasab on 26/11, as he helped others get out of station. He claims that he asked some of the railway officials on duty for help, but says they refused, thinking he was fooling around.
He also claims that he was attacked by Kasab, and that only good fortune allowed him to escape death. That night, he had come to collect money for his round of chai from the officials. He saw Kasab and claims, "Usne mereko gaali diya Punjabi mein (He abused me in Punjabi)."
"There was then a round of fire, and, again by good fortune, I escaped the bullets."
"I am glad that he has been sentenced to death. Usko phataphat phaansi dedo and hame chain se jeene do (Hang him as soon as possible and let us live in peace).
In a fit of anger, Sheikh says, if left to him, he would like to kill Kasab right away, in front of full public glare, and doesn't mind being hanged for it.
Image: Eyewitness Mohammad Taufiq Sheikh distributes free tea on hearing announcement of Kasab's death sentence | Photograph: Nithya Ramani