Baleshwar at the spot where he found Roma. Photo: Paddy
As the Mumbai suburban electric train made its 20-second, 6:32pm halt at a station, commuters swarmed out and into its 12 packed coaches. It’s a regular scene in and around India’s most populated metropolis. Having just managed to squeeze herself into a ladies’ compartment, 21-year-old call centre executive Roma Talreja tried to settle into a corner near the door. The train hurtled ahead and Roma, jammed between other women, was trying to find some space to stand safely on when she suddenly got pushed, lost her tenuous foothold and panicked.
Her hands reached for the steel railing above, but finding only air, Roma was thrown out of the coach. The clattering roar of the train muffled the thud of her fall on to the ground more than a metre below. She was knocked senseless.
Standing near the door of another train speeding in the opposite direction, 20-year-old Baleshwar Mishra couldn’t believe what he had just seen—a young woman in a black salwar-kameez lying next to the tracks. Meanwhile, gasps and screams emanated from his compartment. “There’s a girl by the tracks!” the voices cried out.
Impulsively, Baleshwar went and grabbed the train’s red emergency chain and pulled it down frantically. The train screeched, slowing down. He then surveyed the compartment full of wary faces. “Let’s go and help her!” he shouted. But nobody volunteered, afraid of getting involved, of being inconvenienced perhaps.
His heart hammering his chest, Baleshwar shoved himself to the door, and jumped off the still-moving train. As he landed on the ground, a burst of pain shot up in his ankle. But there was no real damage. He got up to find part of his old rubber slipper’s sole torn off as a result of his fall. But Baleshwar started to sprint back between the tracks as his train picked up speed again and disappeared.
Baleshwar was so far away from Roma, he couldn’t see her. I hope I’m not too late, he thought, gasping for breath. After running for several minutes, he found her sprawled by the side of the tracks. “Behenji, aap theek hai?” he asked [Sister, are you okay?]. But there was no response, and no help in sight—they were alone somewhere between two stations five kilometres apart in Thane district, which borders Mumbai.
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