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Monday, 26 November 2012

44. THE NIGHT OF TERROR AT MUMBAI (26th NOVEMBER, 2008)


It was the evening of the 26th November, 2008 at Mumbai. As I was laying the table for dinner on my 14th-floor flat in Colaba area, the phone rang. It was a friend calling from Delhi, “Where are you?”
“At home only. Why?” I responded.
“Don’t step out. There is firing going on in Colaba,” he cautioned.
“Why? What happened?”
“I am just listening to the news and they are saying that there is firing going on in front of Leopold CafĂ©… just switch on your TV.”

All was quiet in  the compound of Harbour Heights
Still holding the phone, as I moved towards the Sitting Room where the TV was placed, I heard a loud strong blast outside.
“Oh my God! I just heard a blast downstairs. Let me see,” saying this I hung up the phone and ran towards the window to peep out. All was quiet in the compound of Harbour Heights. As I quickly switched on the TV, there it was. There was a bomb blast at the petrol pump in Colaba. It was so very close! Who are these people? Why are they doing this? Are we safe? So many questions flooded my mind.
 
It was painful to see the Taj Mahal in flames 
I was glued to the TV the whole night. Soon there was the news of the siege of the Taj Mahal Hotel and then a floor of the hotel being put on fire. A chill went down my spine and I rushed to my bedroom from where Taj Mahal hotel’s dome was clearly visible. Yes, the hotel was in flames and I stood glued to the window staring helplessly at the flames which were being fanned by the sea breeze at night. 

The entire night was spent in listening to TV news and looking at the burning Taj. There was shoot-out at Mumbai Central Station and then the blood-curdling details of senior police officers being killed. Nobody knew how many people had already been killed and by whom.

TV said one fellow came from here too. Sassoon Dock
as seen from my flat next day
I started getting worried about the welfare of my team members who travelled long distances by train daily and started calling them up to check whether they had reached home safely. I came to know that some of them, who were working late in our Nariman Point office, were not allowed to step out of the building by the police and had to spend the night confined  in the office only. Meanwhile, anxious channel-surfing to keep abreast of the latest developments, continued.

Came morning. At 9am sharp, my driver pressed the bell. “How did you come?”I enquired surprised at his punctuality and sense of duty.
“I managed to take a lift from someone, but there is a curfew in Colaba area,” he replied. Perhaps inspired by him, I tried going to the office but the Police at Colaba stopped me citing curfew in the area and I had no option but to return.

Smoke billowing out of Taj as seen from my flat
Next day again, the policeman on duty said that there is a curfew, but you can walk down if it is urgent. I got out of the car and walked to my office. The roads were totally deserted. In the office also, the attendance was very thin. I decided to use the opportunity to clear up the backlog on my desk. But it was becoming more and more difficult to concentrate. So I walked back at about 4 pm only to be ridiculed by my husband and later by my friends.  “What are you trying to prove?” Hubby sounded upset. I looked down sheepishly and rushed to the kitchen to fix up a strong cup of tea which we both needed badly. 
The TV channel surfing continued and the news kept trickling. The Taj was still burning. 

A helicopter carrying the rescue force
A helicopter suspended in the air over Nariman House
Two days later, we heard the purring of the helicopter near Mukesh Mills area where there was a helipad. We were so used to listening to this irritating sound off and on.  But this sound was different. It was too close. The helicopter, which took off, was flying at a very low height. I moved from one room  to other, trying not to lose sight of the helicopter and finally saw it heading towards Nariman House. And suddenly, it was not moving. It was suspended in the air and a rope was being lowered from it. And then I saw the commandos sliding down the rope and hopping over to the terrace of the building, one after the other. Got goose-pimples looking at our Black-Cats.

I rushed to pick up my camera to capture this moment. I couldn’t believe that this site, where so many people had been kept as hostages, was so close by. Bang … bang…. silence …bang.. bang.. bang again … the exchange of bullets was going on. The fire shots from both sides were so loud as if being shot in our building only. 

The most heart-rending sight, however, was that of a two-year-old toddler being brought out of Nariman House by his brave care-taker. Hiding behind a fridge to save her life, she simply picked up the kid when she saw him crying next to the dead bodies of his parents and ran out of the building, without caring for the bullets. I salute her for her concern for the child and bravery!

The operation was completed in due course when all the terrorists were eliminated by the commandos. Although the life became normal again, the TV images of the hapless people killed on the railway station, policemen of all ranks shot down while performing their duty and an innocent toddler clinging to his care-taker oblivious of the fact that both his parents had been mercilessly gunned down without any fault, haunt me even today.

Life goes on...... Marine Drive ...four days later...

*****


Saturday, 24 November 2012

43. THINK BEFORE YOU LICK


It was the winter of 1992 and I had been suffering from persistent cough for over three months. I had tried all possible medicines but the rogue cough wouldn’t go. I even went to a TB Hospital to have myself checked up for a possible onslaught of tuberculosis but all reports were clear. To say that I was miserable would be an understatement!

It was at this juncture that someone suggested, “Why don’t you consult  xxxx Vaidyaji  ( an Ayurvedic practitioner)? He is really good.”


My response was lukewarm and I said hesitatingly, “I somehow don’t believe in Ayurvedic treatments.”


But my well-wisher was very persuasive, “No, no. He’s not like those ordinary Vaidyas. He is a Gold Medalist and also the personal physician to the President of India… And he sits in this building only. Govt. of India have also recognised him and given him a place in their office building.”


I finally got persuaded and went to consult the famous and highly revered Vaidyaji.


Vaidyaji checked my pulse and advised confidently, “You will be alright in no time but you will have to take this pudiya (powder) with honey twice daily, in the morning as well as in the evening, at least for a year. As of now, I will give you the medicine only for a month.” I was highly impressed with his confidence and expertise.


“See me after a month and don’t stop the medicine under any circumstances,” he gave parting advice.


Two days of licking honey smeared in the grey-white powder and lo and behold! ... my cough had vanished. I just couldn’t believe this miracle and was on top of the world.


A month passed and I went and picked up another month’s supply of powder from Vaidyaji. I admit honestly that I had never respected a doctor more in my life. I was now perfectly alright and bubbling with energy all the time whether it was sitting late in office or saying yes to a suggestion for going for a late-night movie on a working day or arranging a dinner for 50 persons at home. I had become a fountain-head of unstoppable energy. Such was the magic of Vaidyaji’s medicine!


In one such dinner organised by me, my brother who is a doctor and another friend who is also a doctor were present and I could not help bestowing effusive praises on this great man who treated me as if with a magic stick.


My brother laughed and said, “Are you sure, this Vaidyaji of yours is not stuffing you with steroids?”

I felt belittled and snubbed him immediately, “Now, this is the problem with you allopathic doctors. You can never accept any other system of medication.”


I must have been on the verge of losing my cool when this other doctor friend intervened, “My son is also suffering from similar perennial cough and I would like to show him to the Vaidyaji too provided the medicine does not contain any steroids.”


I nodded understandingly. He continued, “If you do not mind, can you give me one of the pudiyas of the medicine. I’ll have it tested in my lab and then seek an appointment with Vaidyaji.”


I immediately obliged him with two pudiyas of the medicine. He put them in his coat’s pocket and left.


I waited anxiously for his call which came after six days, “Hey! Are you aware, what you have been eating for the last two months?”


I was shocked at the revelation he made to me, “This powder is full of steroids…unaccounted and unmeasured. How long have you been taking it?”


I felt as if the carpet had been pulled from under my feet. I knew the side-effects of steroids and had always been against eating them even in small quantities. And here I was, eating them morning evening happily for over two months now. I could not stand any longer and had to slump in the nearest chair.


With great difficulty, I mumbled, “Now, what do I do?”


“Stop it. But you can’t stop it immediately. It will have to be tapered down over a period of three weeks at least….,” he went on and I was thinking why I did not listen to my brother earlier. I was feeling dazed now.


Over the next three weeks, I gave up the steroids and reverted to my normal though low energy levels.

A year later, I was diagnosed as having Diabetes Type II although no-one in my family has ever suffered from this dreaded silent killer. Recently, while surfing the internet, trying to collect more information on the causes of Diabetes, I was shocked to read somewhere “excessive use of steroids” as one of the probable causes of non-functioning pancreas! It took me no time to connect the threads.


How I wish, I had not undergone that ‘miraculous treatment’ by Vaidyaji !


(A real life experience)

*****