‘War on our hands’: Indians in Paris recount a night of terror

  • Arpit Basu, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: Nov 16, 2015 12:15 IST
Coats lay on the floor as forensic police search for evidences inside the Comptoir Voltaire cafe at the site of an attack in Paris. (AFP Photo)

It was around 11:30pm in Paris on Friday and 190-odd students of India House, located in the posh Cite Universitaire de Paris district in south Paris were enjoying a lazy evening and preparing for the weekend ahead.

The director of India House, Bikash Sanyal, was just about to hit the bed when a news flash on the television screen hit him like a hammer -- terrorists have struck in Paris, again.

The news spread quickly among the closely-knit members of the diaspora based at the India House -- which provides affordable hostel accommodation to students from India.

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After overcoming his initial shock, the administrator’s instincts in Sanyal kicked in and he was soon making frantic telephone calls and issuing instructions to ensure proper security arrangements inside the campus.

“The terrorists launched the attack at the heart of the city, barely five miles from India House. For better part of the night we kept our eyes on the television screen trying to follow what was happening,” Sanyal told HT over phone on Saturday. He and the students had to remain confined to the India House compound for the day.

In the second terrorist attack at the French capital since the January shooting at the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, at least eight gunmen and suicide-bombers of the Islamic State launched a coordinated assault across Paris leaving 127 people dead and scores injured on Friday night.

People hug on the street near the Bataclan concert hall, following fatal attacks in Paris, France.

Sanyal, director of India House for the past four years, added that he was scheduled to attend a local book fair to be attended by the Indian high commissioner and other dignitaries of the Indian embassy.

“The inauguration ceremony was cancelled. Security agencies are still suspecting presence of terrorists in and around the city. So we have been asked not to go out until and unless it’s very urgent,” said Sanyal, who owns an apartment in south Kolkata.

A few miles away from India House, Prabir Chakraborty was at his apartment in the city’s outskirts of Boulongue. Like Sanyal, Chakraborty was scheduled to visit the book fair on Saturday morning.

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“My house is far away from the sites of the attacks. So I did not have any first-hand experience of what happened throughout the night. But in the morning I woke up to the sound of wailing sirens of ambulances rushing by and police patrolling the area,” said Chakraborty, who is the assistant director of the Indian tourism office in Paris.

Though Chakraborty was spared the scare in the night, the terror attacks paralysed his neighbourhood .

“All shops are closed. There are hardly any people on road. The scene outside the window actually reminds me of a bandh day in Kolkata. The only difference is that there are far more police here. And there is tension and anxiety everywhere,” said Chakraborty who received more than 80 phone calls till 12 noon from friends and relatives in India.

A makeshift memorial honouring the victims of the terror attack in Paris is seen outside the Consulate General of France in San Francisco, California. (Reuters Photo)

Sandip Sethi, another resident of Kolkata who runs a restaurant named Angeethi near the concert hall where terrorists attacked, recalled the tense moments on Friday night.

“I was just about to close my restaurant on Friday when police asked me to flee the spot. Somehow my staff and I managed to close the door and leave the spot. Enroute I saw heavily armed security officials. It appeared there was a war on our hands,” said Sethi.

He tried to reach his restaurant in the morning but was stopped by security personnel.

“God knows when Paris will resume normal life,” Chakraborty added.

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