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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...

*****


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