Ashaani Kumar was passing through Hyderabad’s crowded Dilsukh Nagar neighborhood at 5:45 p.m. on Thursday. He thought he’d get a samosa and jalebi (Indian sweet) at his favorite eatery in the bustling marketplace, but changed his mind at the last moment and continued on without stopping. This change of mind may have saved his life.
Less than an hour later, twin bomb blasts hit Dilsukh Nagar—a terrorist attack that killed 16 and injured more than 100.
Kumar had barely reached his home south east of Dilsukh Nagar, in the neighborhood of Vanathalipuram, when his friends started calling him frantically, worried he may have been caught in the blast.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Kumar said. “I was just there some time ago!”
He went back to see what had happened and got stuck in traffic for 20 minutes. “There was blood all over. Police and bystanders were helping injured and dead in eight to 10 ambulances parked around,” Kumar said.
As police tried to cordon off the area to collect evidence, they had to beat people back with sticks. The crowd was shocked, but also angry and riled up.
“I felt very bad and shocked seeing that scene,” Kumar said.
Many schools and colleges are located in Dilsukh Nagar. Among the 16 who died that day, three were students at the marketplace buying books. Many students are among the injured.
On the road where the bombs were detonated are bus stops for local buses on one side, and buses to other districts in Andhra Pradesh state on the other. The bombs, strapped to old bicycles, detonated near the stop for local buses.
Before the first explosion, the site was abuzz with the chattering, haggling, and general whir of daily life in Dilsukh Nagar. Vendors peddled all sorts of wares; movie-goers funneled in and out of the four theaters nearby.
Dr. Sitapati Rao Kasturi was in his home only about a quarter mile away. When he heard the blast, he thought it was a cracker heralding the joyous celebration of a wedding. He had been planning to go to a temple in Dilsukh Nagar, but saw the news on television before he left.
Like Kumar, Kasturi felt the shock of a narrow escape.
“I have heard that they actually wanted to detonate the bombs at the temple,” Kasturi said. “It was Thursday, and many people visit the temple on this day. We hear that since the police commissioner was praying at the temple and there was police around, they changed their plans.”
It isn’t the first time Kasturi has been witness to turbulent moments in India’s recent history.
He was in Mumbai when terrorists attacked the city in 2008. He was also in Mumbai during the riots and bomb explosions in 1993 that killed and injured hundreds, when a mosque was demolished and Muslim-Hindu tensions escalated.
In his experience, Kasturi said, people remain vigilant and in shock for few days, and then normalcy returns.
“It’s our Chalta Hai (careless) attitude towards life. Things like this matter more when they happen with our families but not when they happen with the general population.”
He believes that the crowded streets and heavy traffic make it difficult for authorities to monitor terrorist actions. Authorities expected an attack in the days leading up to the blasts, and were on high alert, but to no avail.
“I sometimes feel in India we have more security than in U.S.,” Kasturi observed. “When I go to malls [in India], I have to go through a security check-up stand, but … there’s no security check-up in malls [in the United States]. In spite of security, such things happen more here.”
Jagan Mohan, a corporate trainer who lives in Alkapuri, 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) away from the bomb site said, “Even on Friday, there was a lot of traffic at the site as police [were] allowing vehicles only one way. Media and police had crowded the site. All local channels had stopped all other shows since the blasts have occurred and have been showing continuous news from the ground.”
“A day after the blast, I could see political parties on the site shouting slogans and taking stances against the government,” Mohan said. “National elections are coming next year, so political parties will use this incident to nail the government.”
The issue dominated discussion in the Indian Parliament on Friday. Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said in Hyderabad that the intelligence reports were not specific enough. In Parliament later that day, opposition leaders asked sarcastically if the government would like intelligence alerts to include “door numbers and street numbers.”
With reporting by Susanta Paral and Sujoy Dhar in Hyderabad
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