The blasts that broke Bombay: The sweetmeat seller told journalist Rahul Singh a bomb had gone off only a couple of miles away. That was just the beginning . . . two hours later, 300 lay dead and the city was in ruins

THE FIRST indication I had that something terrible had happened in Bombay was when my sweetmeat seller turned up in a highly agitated state at 2pm on Friday afternoon. 'Sahib, a bomb has just exploded near Flora Fountain,' he said. 'I saw a lot of people running in panic with blood on their clothes.'

Flora Fountain, just a couple of miles from where I live, is in the heart of Bombay's business district. I immediately phoned the Indian Express, the newspaper I onced edited. 'There's been a big explosion at Bombay Stock Exchange,' the news editor said.

The Stock Exchange, where more than two-thirds of India's shares are traded, is a brand new 28-storey building. Pashupati Advani, a stockbroker, has an office across the street.

'I first thought it was an earthquake,' he told me. 'The whole building shook and everything fell off my table. I have lived in San Francisco and experienced an earthquake there. But when I rushed out on to the street, I realised it was a bomb. There were mangled bodies, shattered glass, blood and smoke everywhere, and people with blood- stained clothes were wandering around in a daze. I have never seen anything so horrible before, and I thought to myself, 'Bombay is turning into another Beirut'. '

Little more than an hour after the first blast, I heard the clap of another explosion, loud enough to make the pigeons that live in my building scatter into the air. I tried to ring the Express again. No luck. The lines were all busy.

I eventually got hold of the Times of India. 'A second bomb has just exploded at the Air India building,' a reporter told me. 'Many people have been killed.' The Air India building, another huge skyscraper, is in Nariman Point, also an important hub of business and commercial activity. Next to it is the Indian Express building, and across the road the five-star Oberoi Hotel. The legislative assembly and the main state administrative building are less than 100 metres away. Several state ministers have their homes in the area.

'I was in the boardroom on the fourth floor when we heard the explosion,' said Himmat Sandhu, the manager of the Oberoi. 'Smoke was coming out of the Air India building and people were rushing from it and from the Indian Express building.'

At about the same time, two other bombs went off in rapid succession. The first was at the Sena Bhavan, the headquarters of the militant right-wing Hindu party, the Shiv Sena, which was behind the communal riots that engulfed Bombay in December and January. The second exploded close to the passport office in the northern part of the city.

Arun Sadhu, a writer who was on a bus in the area, heard the Sena Bhavan bomb and thought it was a car accident. 'Then the bus stopped at the traffic lights just before the passport office. At that moment, a huge explosion took place right in front of us. The bus shook, as if an earthquake was taking place, and a shower of metal splinters fell on it. A taxi a few paces away was completely smashed. Five or six other buses were completely demolished . . .'

Later I visited the scenes of the early blasts. The ground floor of the Air India building and the nearby Bank of Oman had been gutted, with a huge crater where the bomb exploded. The twisted wrecks of burnt-out cars littered the street. Among the rubble a torn banner, erected by peace campaigners during the communal rioting, fluttered in the breeze. It read: 'Bombay ko bachana hai' ('We must save Bombay').

At the Stock Exchange, where at least 50 people died and hundreds were injured, blood-soaked clothes lay among share certificates and files. Stalls lay broken in the road outside. 'Many of those who died were poor hawkers,' said Mr Advani.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior IT Support / Projects Engineer

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Bench Joiner & Wood Machinist

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This busy local Joinery company...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence