MUMBAI: Amidst the deafening burst of shrapnel that went up when a bomb detonated at Opera House on Wednesday evening, there was something that rained down: diamonds packed in tiny butter paper packets and hidden in secret vest pockets. It was that time of the day when most traders had wrapped up work and were sipping hot tea and chewing mawa before heading to the safety vaults; others had smoothly lined up their gems on red velvet and were taking the last count.
The huge explosion that ripped through the narrow Khau Galli at Opera House has left the diamond community unnerved and singed in more ways than one. Unbelievable as it may seem to the uninitiated, many merchants carry their diamonds on their person—and the blast led to their losing stones worth crores of rupees. “Most of us carry diamonds in our pockets,” says Bharat V Shah, secretary of the Mumbai Diamond Merchants' Association. “This is how we trade, sometimes under the peepal tree, sometimes at the tea stall. Many people would have lost their diamonds.”
A diamond merchant discloses that many people even conceal the stones in their closed fists throughout the trading hours till 7.30 pm and then transfer them to their pockets when they go to snack. “A rough estimate shows that diamonds worth Rs 25 crore flew into the air at the time of the blast,” says Sanjay Shah, another merchant. “Some people were in their shops counting their diamonds. N
ow they are not being allowed in. We are sure the monetary loss will mount further as we get a clearer picture.” (There are sceptics who say that diamond merchants might be tempted to claim a higher-than-actual loss.)
On Thursday came the aftermath of the great diamond rain. Many workers, who knew that at least a few precious gems would be scattered in nooks and crevices, came to hunt for them. They fear that security and forensics personnel might pocket the diamonds lying around.
However, Shah says the monetary losses are not even a concern right now. “We have lost our people,” he says emotionally. Where is the security? We need much better security.”
Not everyone who was affected by the blast was from Mumbai. A large number of diamond brokers spend the working week in the city and return home to Bhavnagar and Surat on the weekend. While the latter trade in all kinds of polished diamonds, a section of brokers from Amreli specialises in small diamond pieces—called diamond dust—and those from Botat deal only in single cut diamonds.
Close to a hundred of the Gujarati merchants were injured in the blast and rushed to hospital on Wednesday. “Many were discharged after being administered first-aid, but those who were bleeding and were critical were admitted,” says Sanjay Shah, lamenting the death of a few known traders like Tushar Shah. The market did not work on Thursday and will remain shut on Friday too.