Field Notes: ‘I Cried My Heart Out’


Before I went to sleep on 2 June, the Balasore train accident was all over the news. The unofficial death toll had crossed 50. I knew I had to leave the next morning and be on site. At five in the morning on 3 June, I learned that the official count of those who died had crossed 100. I immediately left for Balasore, a 200 km drive from my residence. The heat was at its peak. The ground visuals of the disaster were beyond what I had imagined. I went from the accident site to the hospital, speaking to the victims' families. These families had travelled over 500 km. Some had found their loved ones. Some were still looking for them. 

A family contacted me outside the Soro community health centre in the Balasore district. Their 18-year-old son Mazhar was missing. His friend, travelling with him, had escaped the accident with minor injuries. 

“We do not know how to look for him. We can not find him anywhere," Mazhar’s aunt asked. "Would you please help?”

I readily agreed. We exchanged numbers and promised to update each other.

We circulated his photo through sources in Bhubaneswar, hoping to find him. 

As I continued reporting, witnessing the deaths, and meeting families, I received a call from home. My grandmother had passed away. I had planned to visit her that Sunday (4 June). I went numb. I did not cry. I think I hadn’t processed what was happening around me.  I just left immediately for my ancestral village. Her final rites were performed the same night. I returned home to Bhubaneswar, and my family stayed back. 

For the next two days, I kept tracking Mazhar. I hoped with all my heart to find him alive. On 5 June, we found his body at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMs), Bhubaneswar. The hope of finding him alive had come to an end. The family’s worst nightmare had come true. 

I had finally processed everything that was happening around me. I cried my heart out. 

The train tragedy of an unexpected co-incidence had started feeling personal. 

I did not stop following up with the families I had come in contact with during the initial days of reporting the accident. That's when I learned that some of them were waiting to take the bodies of their kin back home. I could not comprehend what these families must be going through—an eerie unease of an uncertain wait. 

On 24 June, I reached the guest house, accommodating families waiting for DNA reports to ascertain the identities of their family members. 

At the guest house, I was initially restricted to talking directly to the families by the owner, and an eastern coast railway official initially stopped me from talking directly to the families. They feared this might disturb them. 

After some phone calls, official permission, and an hour later, I finally met the families. 

They were visibly exhausted. But with every new person coming to them, they hoped they would finally have their answers and their wait would end soon. 

They hoped the same from me. 

Aap dilwaiyega kya humare bhai ko,” (Can you get me my brother’s body?)

Mera bhi naam likhiyega kya?” (Will you write my name too?)

Ye photo se app pehchaan karwa sakte hai?” (Can you use this photo for identification?)

These were some desperate questions raised by the family members before I volleyed my questions to them about their wait and agony.

I knew they would have all answers to my questions, but I feared that I had no answers to theirs. 

You can read Aishwarya Mohanty’s full story here

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