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Looking back on terror... and ahead in hope

Mumbai was maimed on November 26. But in the months following the attack, A bloodied city has remained unbowed. Here is how Mumbai has coped with being violated. And moved on. Hindustan Times reports.Six spots, then and now | Compensation Count

india Updated: May 26, 2009 09:52 IST

Our rage became our commitment: Oberoi
Reporter:Aditya Ghosh

"I let them cry as long as they wanted to."

And everyone did. Including Hemant Oberoi, the man who asked them to.
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Hemant Oberoi:The grand chef of the Taj group at The Chambers, which served as a hiding cell for many VIPs and foreign guests. The staff guided them there, reasonably sure that the terrorists would not know the way.

The shared grief made the resolution of The Chambers' kitchen staff to rebuild their world stronger. And it wasn't long before the exclusive kitchens, which lost 10 staff members including three senior chefs to the terrorist attack, were bustling again; with men in brand-new uniforms serving Lobster Thermidors and Chateau-briand beef steaks.

"People couldn't believe they were alive when we regrouped after a week. We organised a counselling session and let emotions run loose. It transformed into a rage; a commitment was born that evening," says Oberoi, grand chef of the Taj Group. "What followed were deadlines. We set unrealistic but unavoidable targets - the exercise had to be a stoic one."

He adds with pride that no staff member quit the organisation; everyone worked with a silent resilience. "We threw away our entire stock of raw materials, cutlery and plates that were exposed and ordered fresh stock." New uniforms for the entire staff were stitched almost overnight. Life poured back into the Taj. "I feel amazed at what people can achieve if they are resolute," Oberoi says.

But while the staff has been quietly coping with the trauma of the terror attack, they're vociferous in their censure of certain Members of Parliament and the media, whose behaviour led to heavy casualties in The Chambers, the exclusive
kitchen that serves only VIPs and those who are its members.

"As soon as the MP phoned into a live newscast and announced that hundreds of people were secure in The Chambers, the terrorists were fed this information by their handlers and they attacked this place with grenades," he says.

Oberoi looks at the bullet he has preserved; the one that was aimed at him but hit his office cupboard instead. The man who hid in bunkers with his father for a week during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, mumbles: "If I only had a gun."

Fresh start in Solapur, one small step at a time
Reporter:Alifiya Khan

Since age 12, Mohammed Sabir Dalal, now 47, has never missed rising at the crack of dawn for morning prayers — until the 26/11 attacks.

"My day used to start off on a good note," remembers the Solapur resident. It’s been six months since Dalal was forced to abandon this daily ritual — he was shot at CST station on November 26 on his way back to Solapur. In 30 minutes, two bullets hit his right leg and has left him bed-ridden ever since. He has spent four-and-a-half months at JJ hospital, where he is currently recovering after his third surgery.
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Mohd Sabir Dalal:The green grocer took two bullets in his leg at CST and still sees some good in it

The first two months after the attack, the green grocer was in the care of plastic surgeons who patched a gaping hole in the leg. Now, orthopaedic surgeons at JJ say he could take 3-5 months to walk. “The surgery’s done, we’ve advised daily physiotherapy. It’s uncertain how long he’ll take to walk again,” says Dr Ajay Chandanwala, orthopedic surgeon at JJ hospital.

His wife and mother have come to Mumbai to take care of him, leaving his eldest son Salaam (21) to take care of his four younger siblings. Since last week, Salaam has barely been able to move after being diagnosed with malaria.

And the family has another problem to sort. “Some of the compensation money due to us is still pending. My brother keeps
going to the tehsildar’s office, only to be told to return later to meet some other people. We aren’t even from this city, I don’t know what to do,” says Mehzabeen(40), Dalal’s wife.

“Relatives have been taking care of food and medicines for our children,” she says. Despite the setbacks, Dalal counts some upsides. “We discovered our true friends and family. And my errant son, who I always yelled at for not getting a job, is taking care of his siblings. I’ve discovered how easy happiness is to come by — even the smallest steps on a walker leave me amazed,” he smiles.

He can’t bring himself to recall the night of terror, but insists he has moved on in life. “It reminded me that life is short. I’m going to return to Solapur and look for jobs, maybe work from home. I crave the daily rut of life — and my kids, who I’ve missed the most,” Dalal says.

Lost a loved one, now fighting hostility
Reporter: Alifiya Khan

In the 33 years of her life, Rajkumari Gupta had never stepped out of her house, except to buy vegetables or visit relatives.

But when her husband Shivshankar (37), who sold bhelpuri at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, was shot dead by terrorists outside Cama Hospital on the night of November 26, Rajkumari knew she had to do what she had never done: Step out of the house, find a job and feed her four children.
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Rajkumari Gupta:Her husband, Shivshankar, was shot dead by the terrorists outside Cama Hospital. She’s still looking for a job

“I come from a small town in Uttar Pradesh and was used to being at home. First my father, then husband… there were always men to take care of money. I was never allowed nor expected to work,” says Rajkumari, biting her lip to fight back tears. “For months now I have been looking for a job but neither am I educated nor street-smart. It’s difficult.”

It took Rajkumari nearly a month to get over the initial shock. During this period, her 17-year-old daughter Neelam took over the family’s responsibility: cooking, cleaning, sending her siblings to school, taking care of their homework and managing the finances.

Rajkumari regrets the toll her inability has taken on her daughter. Neelam has given up hope of becoming a computer engineer; she wants to complete Class 10 and find a job to support her mother and siblings — Deepak (14), Sandeep (12) and Sheetal (9).

Monetary pressures apart, Rajkumari and her children now have to face the sudden hostility of her in-laws. “My grandparents and uncle want a share in the compensation money that we got from the government. My mother told them it is for us but they got angry. They call her names and don’t even talk to us,” said Neelam.

The family got Rs 5 lakh as compensation. Not only are they depending on it for buying a one-room tenement in Dombivli — they now live in a one-room shanty at Mankhurd’s Annabhau Nagar for Rs 800 a month — but also for their daily expenses. And with Rajkumari still looking for a job, the money will not last forever.

Attacks won’t stop him from coming back
Reporter: Naomi Canton

British National Harnish Patel was shot thrice in his legs and his side at Leopold Café. Until two months ago, he needed crutches to walk. But next week, the 29-year-old chartered surveyor will run a 10 km race in Portsmouth in the United Kingdom.

He is taking part in the city’s D-Day celebrations, and will promote the British Red Cross, which he says has been a constant support through his ordeal.
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Harnish Patel: The chartered surveyor from the UK went to Leopold Café on November 26 and received critical gunshot injuries

He is also planning to a run a five-mile coastal race in nearby Hayley Island, to raise funds for Victim Support, a British charity.

“It’s quite a big milestone running again given that I was shot in the thigh and leg and I am in agony when I run,” he says. “But I used to do a lot of running before.”

Patel landed in Mumbai on Tuesday, November 25 — a day before the terror attacks — for a month-long backpacking trip. On Wednesday, he went to Leopold Café at 9 pm with an Englishman he met at Elephanta Island.

The gunshots left him critically wounded and, after initial treatment at Jaslok Hospital for four days, he was flown back to the UK by a Swiss Air Ambulance helicopter.

Even after returning to his home in Havant after treatment at Hillingdon Hospital, he had to make daily visits to a medical centre for a month.

The bullets caused peripheral nerve damage, though they luckily missed his major arteries and bones. “It took a very long time for the bleeding to stop and my right leg still has a lump of mashed up tissue that’s going to take time to recover,” he says.

He’s fit enough to return to work now, but says there are few jobs available in the UK at present. He plans to use the time to recover completely and travel to New Zealand and Australia for two months . Then, in autumn, he will start studying for an international MBA.

“I would come back to Mumbai,” he says. “It’s a safe city. These were extremists but unfortunately, you never know when they are going to spring up.”

‘We’ll make it better, stronger than before’
Reporter: Naomi Canton

Nariman House still looks like a war zone.

The lift has been blown out and as you walk up the stairs of the five-storey building, the walls show gaping holes. Glass has been shot out everywhere, the walls pockmarked by thousands of bullets, the floors covered in ash. No restoration work has started yet.

"The Jewish mourning period is 12 months," says Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, director of the Chabad Mumbai Relief Fund. "For us the whole year is a year of dedication to the life’s work of Rabbi Gabi and Rivka Holzberg."
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Sanjay Pawar:The assistant sub-inspector helped catch Kasab, was right next to Omble, who was shot dead

Berkowitz was in Mumbai last week with Rabbi Nachman Holtzberg, father of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, who was murdered inside Nariman House, and Rabbi Yosef Kantor, director of Chabad South Asia.

Chabad House, the Jewish outreach centre that had operated from inside the building, continues to do its work in Mumbai, from a different location. They initially used a local hotel but now run their services from a city apartment.

An international committee of 10 rabbis from across the world were deciding what to do with Nariman House, Berkowitz said. “We don’t know yet what the future of this specific house will be but we do know we will build Chabad House stronger and better than before.” Rabbi Kantor, who is based in Bangkok, is interviewing candidates.

He says: “Chabad is a concept, it is not tied to any particular location, in India things take their time and the monsoon is about to start.”

He adds they are yet to receive structural engineering reports and the total costs of repairs were unknown. “As we rebuild, we go forward with the goodwill of people of all faiths.”

“I would like it if it reopened as Chabad House as I don’t like it being empty,” says Babu Gaiakadar, who runs a TV repair shop opposite.