As Mumbai’s Taj Hotel burned and terrorists’ grenades and gunfire ripped through its history-rich interiors, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan took a wounded colleague to safety, and then lunged back into the firefight, after speaking his last words to other commandos.
“Do not come up, I will handle them,” the 32-year-old officer said. He did — until he fell to a bullet, shot in the back by terrorists later in the day.
It was November 28. The commandos were scouring floor by floor in a raging gunbattle that would stretch to 60 hours at the hotel in Mumbai in one of the worst-ever terrorist attacks in recent years.
Minutes earlier, the commander of 51 Special Action Group of the National Security Guards had helped his wounded “buddy pair”, commando Sunil Yadav, out of the hotel to the safety of a medical team nearby.
Unnikrishnan’s childhood friends are not astonished the officer got into combat alone. For, “U Sandeep” as he was known in school, knew no fear.Continued from Page 1
“He was bold, upfront and wanted to be in control. He had so much conviction but was never pompous. He made up his mind to join the army when he was in class eight,” said Sandeep Naidu, his classmate for a decade at the Frank Anthony Public School in Bangalore.
The Unnikrishnans moved from Cheruvannur in Kerala’s Kozhikode district to Bangalore 28 years ago. The officer’s father K. Unnikrishnan retired as an officer from the Indian Space Research Organisation in 2007.
His parents have their own stories to tell. Like the time when as a gangling teenager, he travelled alone from Bangalore to Bhopal to enter the Indian Navy through the National Defence Academy.
“He shared his intentions of joining the armed forces only after passing the entrance exam and next insisted that we let him travel (to Bhopal) alone. Other parents called and congratulated us when they heard that he managed to get there on his own,” said his mother Dhanalakshmi.
The parents were keen to see their child become a doctor, but the teenager never gave up his yearning for the armed forces.
Sandeep could not join the navy because of a minor vision defect. However, a couple of months later, he got a call from the army and soon made it to the 7 Bihar Regiment, based at Danapur, through IMA in 1999.
At the NDA, he was known as a selfless, generous, calm and composed cadet. Hidden behind his slim physique was a tough, never-give-up spirit that was seen in various training camps and cross-country races he participated in.
And at the bottom of it all, he was a plain good guy, as one of his buddies, Prasenjit Mund, found the first time he met Sandeep, when a group of cadets had climbed up King Shivaji’s Sinhgarh Fort desperate and thirsty.
“Unni was the first to reach and started drawing water from the well. We lined up with our canteens, but a tourist first held out her water bottle. Unni filled it,” Mund said. “Then, another. Unni filled that too. Within seconds, there was a long line of tourists waiting for water. Without a word –– and with a smile to us –– Unni dutifully doled out his generosity. He never got to us. He himself never got a sip. The order came to move on.”
He joined the National Security Guards (NSG) and was assigned to its Special Action Group (SAG) in 2007. He topped the “Ghatak Course” conducted by the army.
When he came home on vacation, they went to watch Malayalam movies together and his mother cooked lavish spreads of his favourite fish curry and rice.
Sandeep “used to tell us this (army) is our family,” Dhanalakshmi said. “He said ‘we are all united and each of us are ready to die to save the other.