It was 9 pm and Nungambakkam railway station was in its normal Friday night torpor of tired commuters going home, shop-keepers checking the clock and the lighting in power save mode.
Only, this was not any other day. Earlier in the morning, this station had hit the national headlines for the gruesome murder of a 24-year-old Infosys employee, Swathi S. As I walked up to the spot where she had fallen after being hacked down by a helmeted man, I looked around to get a sense of that moment when a horror is committed amidst a placid sea of impassive faces.
But Platform 2 was back to its business of arriving and departing. The beggars were still begging, the shops were still open and functioning, people were boarding and alighting. At the spot where Swathi had lain, the cold concrete had been washed clean of the blood that had flown for two hours. There was no barricade to momentarily commemorate the spot, not even a deferential muffling of voices. Those who didn’t know, trod over the spot, eyes trained only on the incoming 9.20.
Had this been the scene too when the man cut her down and bystanders reportedly halted their stride for an instant and hurried on with their lives? Earlier that morning, I had got down at the station from the incoming 6.08 am, perhaps 20 minutes before the killing, and gone on to capture the horror on my news website. But had I been there 20 minutes later would I have done anything different?
The ones who knew this was the spot, huddled far from it and spoke in hushed tones to friends or strangers about the lack of CCTVs, the absence of Railway Police personnel and alas what had become of Chennai.
I’m a regular at Nungambakkam. I’ve been suburban commuter for seven years. Had I seen her, maybe texting by that pillar, or chatting with a colleague? Had she brushed past me sometime? Had I shared a seat with her?
In the trains going into the suburban night on Friday, the talk was obviously about Swathi, branching off into relationships, stress, family values, etc.
But how could this have happened at Nungambakkam? In my seven years as a commuter, I had taken the last train back home with just about four or five people in the carriage, but never a thought about safety. There had been a murder over on that foot-over bridge, but a 11 pm ride was never filled with dreaded prospect.
Has Swathi changed all that?