The Delhi Bombings: An On-Scene Account

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Nearly four hours after the bomb blast, Neeraj Chawla still walks around with a large blotch of blood on his blue shirt. Chawla was one of the shop-owners in Paharganj—a congested zone of cheap backpacker hotels and clothing and fabric stores, just off New Delhi's main railway station. A bomb went off this evening in a busy intersection in Paharganj, killing at 16 people and injuring 60. (An explosion in the Sarojini district may have killed 39; another bomb went off in a bus in south Delhi; while police defused another in Chandi Chowk.) Chawla's handicrafts store is just meters away from the epicenter of the blast, which took place in an intersection packed with shoppers—including women and children—doing last-minute shopping for the festival of Diwali, the biggest Hindu holiday of the year.

"There was noise, and screaming, and then I saw bodies covered with blood lying all around," Chawla says, gesturing to the ground, now covered with glass shards, and tattered bits of clothing; one cycle-rickshaw, partially destroyed, lies amidst the mess. Windows of several nearby building have shattered; and the sign-boards above the shops have been bent backwards, as if by a giant hair-dryer blowing at them. Chawla says, "I saw one child which couldn't have been more than six months old, which was dead; its body had been split by the blast. And then there was a family of shoppers, all dead—a mother, the children, all lying spread on the ground with their arms apart. I rushed to pick the bodies up; all of us shop owners rushed. We got their blood on us, and that's why I'm covered with blood. For 20, 25 minutes, no one came from outside to help; we were picking up the bodies ourselves."

Amit Gupta, the owner of Rangoli Garments, another shop in the area, was on his scooter, driving in to his shop, when the explosion happened. "There were children hurt and screaming, and total chaos out here," he says. "I'm a lucky man, a very lucky man. My shop is just 20 steps away from the blast."

A fat man with a stunned look walks around, saying that his brother, a fruit-seller, was injured in the blasts, and is in the hospital. He's too disoriented to give his name coherently.

There are policemen everywhere in Paharganj: they have sealed off Main Bazar, the street where the blast went off, and only allow journalists and foreign tourists living in the hotels back into the street. The garish hotel lights on Main Bazar are mostly dimmed tonight; the street is eerie and deserted, except for the tourists.

The tourists are clearly rattled. Mary Jane Malet, an Australian artist visiting New Delhi and staying in a hotel in Paharganj, was in a grocery store just meters away from the blast site when she heard the noise. "There was screaming, and then the air was full of dust, and people were worried they'd asphyxiate themselves," she says. "Everyone got down on their knees; there was real fear and panic at that moment." She remembers eating at the Lord Krishna hotel, which is right opposite the bomb blast site, just a few nights ago with an Indian friend. He had pointed out to her that the loudspeakers were blaring out in Hindi, again and again: "Be careful, there could be terrorists around."

Will she leave? "No," she says. "I don't like being bullied. I think the people who exploded these bombs want to spread fear, and I don't want them to win." (According to TIME's New Delhi Bureau chief, Alex Perry, Indian officials are speculating that the perpetrator may be Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based group with ties to al Qaeda and believed to be behind many attacks on Indian institutions in the last five years. Police are now saying that they received a warning call 20 minutes before the Paharganj blast.)

But other tourists do appear to be checking out of their hotels. There is fear in the air. At the Namaskar Hotel, one of the brightly lit, dingy hotels in Paharganj, the hotel worker at the desk nervously tells one of his staff: "I hear the police think the terrorists are staying in one of these hotels right here, do you know that?"