Tukaram Omble loved cricket, offered chocolates to children, and was the resident snake catcher back home in his Maharashtra village.
Last November, the 53-year-old caught the big fish. As terrorists raided Mumbai in one of the biggest attacks in years, assistant sub-inspector Omble caught alive one of the attackers, Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab, providing India the most powerful piece of evidence in a terrorism case against Pakistani attackers.
Then he went down, five bullets from the terrorists having ripped his torso.
In many ways, Omble became the first true Mumbai Police hero in a city where the icons in uniforms often come with the baggage of being “encounter” experts.
But for days, the heroism of this faceless policeman, the single act that clinched the 26/11 investigation, went completely unsung.
“Nobody told us about his heroic act,” said Omble’s 25-year-old daughter Vaishali, the third of four daughters, as she sat in the family’s 150-square-foot home at the Worli police quarters. “We found out 10 days after the incident.”
The faceless braveheart was not so faceless back home –– in his Kedambe village in the Satara district, about 10 kilometres from Mahabaleshwar, where he was born in a family of rice farmers.
He was a star in Kedambe: the man who deftly caught snakes when they slithered out of their burrows in fields and from cracks in walls at homes.
Then he became a bigger star –– in a place with most others slogging in farmlands, scrounging for jobs or migrating to faraway cities for meagre wage work, Omble was the first policeman from the village.
“And five neighbouring villages,” added Vaishali, pursuing a Bachelor of Education course.
Omble came to Mumbai five years after he married Tara, now 48. His children were born in the city and were seeking out new ambitions –– he did not insist he wanted them to join the police force.
“He said we should follow our dreams,” said Vaishali.
He was following his own dream with sincerity that is often dented in India’s poorly equipped and often-demoralised police force.
The family is yet to know whether the media speculation about Omble being shortlisted for the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest peacetime battle honour, are true. But they wait in hope.
“We will go to Delhi to receive the award,” said Tara. “But I am waiting for the day Kasab is punished.”
(With inputs from Rachna Pratihar)