The image is stuck in memory: Black Cat commandos rappelling on to the roof of besieged Nariman House as a helicopter whirred overhead. But few know of the faceless locals who helped the National Security Guard prepare for the offensive.
Vijay Surve, a 57-year-old political party worker and father of two who has lived in Colaba all his life, spent the better part of two days before the operation drawing up maps and estimating terrace-to-terrace distances for the crack team. And that’s not all. Before he began to assist the NSG in its recce of the area, he was busy evacuating the buildings nearby — even pulling a four-month-old baby girl out of a building right next to the petrol pump that was almost blown up with grenades.
|Vijay Surve spent the night of November 26 going door to door, telling residents to vacate buildings near Nariman House. He went from door to door, getting local residents away from Nariman House. Then he sat down with NSG to map from memory the narrow gullies of Colaba.|
“My party office is right opposite Nariman House,” said Surve. “Minutes after the attack began at 9.30 pm on
November 26, a friend came running up to me saying he had heard shots fired. I rushed to Nariman House to find that a 19-
year-old boy had been shot dead.”
A mob had gathered and was banging on the doors of the Jewish community centre. “I could hear the automatic gunfire and I realised this was something serious,” said Surve.
Surve decided to warn the residents of the buildings around Nariman House. It took him till the wee hours to go from door to door with his warning, but locals say he probably saved several lives.
“I had heard about the trouble in Colaba and I was rushing home,” said Edward Fernandes. “My family was at home, right next to Nariman House, and I couldn’t get in. Surve rushed in and emerged with my wife, mother and four-month-old baby.”
An old Muslim couple was not so lucky. They were shot by a stray bullet outside their front door as Surve passed his message of warning through a neighbouring building.
The following day, the NSG moved in.
“There are so many unauthorised structures and illegal modifications that no map can really help you manouevre in this area,” said Surve. “But I grewn up flying kites in the narrow gullies, so I didn’t need a blueprint.”
His hand-drawn aerial view, etched from a half-century of memories, helped the commandos finish the job.