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When Bombs Went Off at the Boston Marathon

An eye-witness account of the twin explosions and thoughts thereafter

Published: Apr 16, 2013 08:35:42 PM IST
Updated: Apr 17, 2013 12:31:12 PM IST
When Bombs Went Off at the Boston Marathon
Image: Getty Images

It was supposed to be a good day. The city had opened its arms to the world. The energy was infectious. My boyfriend was running the Boston Marathon. His training schedule had been an integral part of our three-month old courtship and this was a milestone for him. Perfect running weather, sunshine, and a record number of almost 27,000 runners had registered this year from world over.

We were a bit late to get there, thanks (in retrospect) to the traffic. We started walking up Boylston towards the finish line at Copley Square, watching athletes of all ages and ethnicities running (alongside us) towards their goal. Their sense of joy, only a few hundred metres away from the finish line, was palpable. The crowds, packed several layers deep, responded with cheers of encouragement.

We pushed to get to the end but as we approached, movement slowed to a crawl. My companions suggested we duck into a store, and find a shortcut through the nearby mall. We followed a girl in pink—she seemed to know where she was headed. (I would thank her now if I can find her)

We ended up on a parallel street, and walked briskly towards the finish line. We turned the corner on Copley Square, and that was when the first bomb went off, metres away from us. The ground shook, my body shook. This is what went through my mind—"Sounds like Diwali? Earthquake? Bomb? Impossible."

I looked for my companions to make sure they were okay.  And then, a second explosion took place moments later. People started running. I can still visualise their faces—wide-eyed, scared, confused. A girl next to me burst into tears. We could smell the smoke. Voices carried in the wind. "It’s an explosion." Shrieks! "There are people dead." Were those rumours?

We worried about J, hoping desperately that he’d not kept his pace driven by his urge to excel, and had slowed down enough to not be near the blast. We stayed where we were. We trembled at the thought that had we not taken the detour, we would have been right there—where the explosions took place. We might have been a statistic on the news bulletin. There was no time for tears. Life had changed immeasurably, yet again.

Emergency services were onsite in minutes. To the credit of the volunteers, they stepped in, and helped the massive crowds move out, preventing an even deadlier stampede. The Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts joined them and repurposed its aid tent at the finish line to deal with the casualties.

The organisation had 40 runners under their banner, including their CEO and a few board members. By evening, its volunteers were providing food, blankets and counselling support across the city. (Please consider donating. Use postal code 02138 to locate the Eastern Massachusetts chapter as the recipient of your donation) 

The city responded with surprising calm for such a heinous event. Even as I write this, the hospitals are packed with hundreds of seriously wounded, and three are reported dead. An eight-year old boy did not live to see his father finish the run.

We managed to locate J, and the relief of seeing him at a distance was one that would be hard to describe. He was five minutes away from the finish line when the bombs went off. And there he was, worrying about us. In that moment of utter chaos, thousands of ordinary people, like me, would have found their moments of clarity. We got back home late and tired but alive and together. Sleep was fitful at best.

I sit here now, the morning after; sharing these thoughts with you all. There is sadness seeping through every pore of my being, even if I do not have the means to acknowledge it. So many in this city, today, are grieving and hurting. We have been fortunate.

The US, like many other countries in the world, must and will carry the consequences and responsibility of decades of interference and self-interest that have undermined the histories of other nations. But does wilfully killing innocent bystanders at an event, that is meant to bring people together, really further any cause? What ethic or religion condones matching blood with blood?

By the time the dust settles in at Copley Square, there will be a new enemy, new hatred, and new scars to add to the ones from last afternoon…. And the world will be no safer or better than it was when we woke up to a new morning of promise just 24 hours ago.

P.S: I encourage you to share your thoughts through comments. Please be gentle, considerate and kind, both here and to those around you. Life’s too short to be otherwise. You can also respond to my twitter handle @tanzeelio

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  • John Ramsay

    Tanzeel - your description of your experience, resonated with me -, so very happy you\'re safe - Best John

    on Apr 18, 2013
    • Tanzeel Merchant

      Thank you for the thoughtful words John. @tanzeelio

      on Apr 19, 2013
  • Kathy Brennan, Email

    I am so happy you and your friends are ok. It just is so very, very sad that things are so violent. We need to be more kind and carrying of each other. Bye for now be well.

    on Apr 17, 2013
    • Tanzeel Merchant

      Thank you so much for the kind wishes and concerns. The world could use more love, and less hate.

      on Apr 17, 2013
  • Theck

    Seeing this through your eyes brings tears to mine. The devastation and loss of life at such a joyful event is unimaginable. In India, we pay such little respect to life - a bus falls into a ravine and dozens die. Bombs go off in Hyderabad with dozens dead, and nobody else in the rest of the country cares. Is it our cultural fatalism, or simply that we are too self-absorbed to care? The outpouring of sympathy for the victims in Boston, and the subsequent cal to action to find the perpetrators is a lesson to us in India to be more vigilant for our own people, and more importantly, to CARE.

    on Apr 17, 2013
    • Tanzeel Merchant

      Thank you for making the time to post these thoughts Theck. Your observations are so important. We as a society are in danger of becoming indifferent, and it takes each individual to act, to \"care\" (as you put it) to make a difference.

      on Apr 17, 2013
  • Ann Juurinen

    Your article was both gripping and illuminating. I am glad that both you and your partner are safe. I thought your last two paragraphs were both succinct and deeply truthful.

    on Apr 17, 2013
    • Tanzeel Merchant

      Thank you for taking the time to share these thoughts Ann, and for the feedback and the wishes. One wishes we could change the future, or are we condemned to keep repeating it?

      on Apr 17, 2013
  • Dr Vikram Vinayek

    this is an ugly incident and loss of lives of innocent people whatever colour , caste or creed is deeply felt for by another human being on the other side of the continent in condolences to the grieved families and may god give strength to them to face the suffering and irrepairable loss.

    on Apr 17, 2013
    • Tanzeel Merchant

      Thank you for the kind words and thoughts Dr. Vinayek. When it comes to causing hurt, we are all inextricably connected, and we all hurt. You are right in that it doesn\'t matter what colour or creed we are.

      on Apr 17, 2013
  • Caroline

    This is written in post-choc trauma, fear and relief that all your relatives were safe. How lucky we are you took the counter-alley. What a nightmare! My blessing to those who trained hard for an event of enormous personal accomplishment, brought their family with them, everyone excited while waiting at line and then chaos. Poor little boy who died in the joy of seeing his dad coming. I\'m thinking of the dad too... How shocked he must be that his little one is gone. My bro just did the Paris marathon, brought his family over to the finish line. Thankfully, he did the Paris one. Tanzeel, hang on, take your tine to recover and call us next time you are in Toronto.

    on Apr 17, 2013
    • Tanzeel Merchant

      Thank you for the kind, thoughtful words Caroline. It is horrible what happened. So many lives were darkened in that one instant. The boy\'s father spoke on the radio this morning. I can only imagine how deep his grief is. Hugs. - @tanzeelio

      on Apr 17, 2013