Forty-year-old Bharat Gujjar locks himself up in a room every Diwali when everyone around him is bursting firecrackers and celebrating. “Every time a firecracker goes off, I remember the grenade explosions and loud screams of that night. I lock myself up in a room, trying to forget the screams,” said Gujjar, kitchen supervisor at Colaba’s Café Leopold, one of the targets of the 26/11 terror attacks.
On that fateful night, seven years ago, Gujjar had taken over from a colleague and was standing at the cash counter at Leopold, when the attackers stormed in. While he was busy writing a bill, he heard a loud scream from outside. He saw a man throw something towards the first floor of the restaurant. Then there was an explosion and pieces of glass flew all over the diners and restaurant employees.
“I could hear painful screams as dust enveloped the Café. It was 9.45pm and before I could reach out for help, two waiters, who I had known for three years, were shot dead in front of my eyes,” said Gujjar.
As he stepped out to pull the bodies to a corner, another grenade rolled just four feet from where he was crouching. “The last thing I remember was holding onto a small locket of Ganesha in my pocket as blood smeared out of my stomach. Just before I passed out, there was a ringing sensation in my ear as the pain surged,” said Gujjar.
Two gunmen had attacked the Café, a popular jaunt for tourists, at Colaba.
“The nightmare never seems to end,” said Gujjar, adding a total of seven Indians and eight foreigners were killed right before his eyes.
A recurring vision that haunts him even today is the disfigured face of a baby with blood smeared all over it, which he saw while being carried to the hospital.
After seven years, Gujjar still has nine stone fragments lodged in his body. “I was taken to St. George Hospital, where after initial treatment, the hospital staff informed my wife that I would survive. I was helped by the Taj group of hotels, which paid for my treatment as I was later admitted to JJ Hospital. They also provided me with a temporary job,” he said.
Gujjar has difficulty doing heavy work and has made immense changes to his lifestyle. “My body is extremely weak, but I visit my local physician for weekly checkups. I have been able to take care of my three sons by putting extra effort at work to pay their school fees. I cannot sit with my back hunched as the stitches in my stomach start to hurt,” he said.
Gujjar never gathered courage to visit a hospital again to remove the remaining particles lodged in his body because he could not forget the trauma of that night. In 2009, Gujjar was offered a senior post at Café Leopold. He willingly took up it. “Working at the Café allowed me to stand up to my fear. My response to those terrorists is that I have the courage to face people like them again. My only prayer to the almighty is that nobody should witness what I did as the memories haunt you,” said Gujjar holding back his tears.