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Recalling 26/11: Part II

HT readers share the horror of that moment on November 26, 2008 when they realised that terroists had attacked their city.

mumbai Updated: Nov 26, 2011 01:25 IST

It was my birthday and amidst all the celebrations I was moved to know that the city is under complete threat. Celebrating in a restaurant with my close friends came to a complete chaos after the headlines flashed on the LCD's present right in the center. A cold wave ran through me and my heart was in my mouth. Suddenly the city came to a halt, the mobile signals were jammed and the public transport seized up. The only aim of all of us was to reach home safely as soon as possible. After reaching home I realized how within a span of couple of hours, the reasons to smile faded off from the faces of a million living in the city. Horrifying was that night when my birthday 26/11 turned to be remembered as a black day for the city.

Name: Hisham Iqbal Qureshi
Date of Birth: 26/11/1988
Occupation: Research Analyst


MY MUMBAI

My city burns in a fire of terror; My heart burns in a fire of rage. Ruthless gunmen tyrannize my people; Fear of death captures my state. The nation gapes, the citizens die. Unseeing, Unthinking, indiscriminating eyes, murderously lurk in the heart of the town. They say my city is stronger than it might seem, but sometimes even the strongest lay down lame.

I hold my faith in my hands; I wear my hope on my sleeve. I know my city will rise and shine, even as anxious eyes wait. Gruesome gunshots ring in the air, Death tolls rise and injured lists escalate. Armed forces march forth… The battle surges, The war begins. Malicious killing, gory bloodbath, my heart weeps tears of blood. Communal hatred surfaced now, venom of antipathy spewed around. Innocent streets turned to warfronts, the pearls of Queen’s necklace scattered in fear. My city lost three brave hearts, sadness gripped us all. Many others were martyred too; The country, in sorrow drowned. Twenty Seven hours and huge causalities, trauma unfolds, hearts sink in despondency. Twenty eight, Twenty Nine, THIRTY SIX hours… the drama strangulates hope. Hostages freed one after another, a whiff of fresh air for the choking hearts. Armed forces gain strength, terrorists reduced every moment. Valiant soldiers, sons of the soil, step on the toes of the brutal bad guys. Nail biting moments fill up the day, 48 hours whiled away. Incurable damage, irreparable loss, all at innocent peoples’ cost.

The Desperado plays rounds of hide and seek; Strength reduced but not extinguished. Success of Operation Black Tornado brings celebration amidst the chants of funeral prayers The world joins hands together to unite, Connected in sorrow, together in joy. Hope now builds another floor, jewels of the Taj soon to be restored. Fifty two hours into the fight, the struggle continues with a positive sight. Operation Cyclone in progress, Citizens watching the news, all night, sleepless. Wishing for the end of all this torture, killing Candles and diyas lit for the deities, undiscerning. It’s enough frustration to last a lifetime; It’s enough apprehension to numb the mind The combat continues, the rampage is on, Grasp of the NSG growing strong Operations gain opulent momentum, Harbingers of accord. Fifty Six hours gone by all in a wait for concord. And finally it does come, what we all waited for. After Sixty hours of wait and watch, so difficult to fathom. But my city lived through it all. Yes! My city survived it all. Feelings of pride and sadness contradict, Tears of joy and sorrow conflict. In our hearts and in our minds, this episode shall always remain Not that of commotion, not that of death, but that of incongruent courage of our army men. Though scarred and charred my city still is serene. Amazing survival… unparalleled existence… That’s the spirit of my city… MY MUMBAI

Name: Ms. Sharon Faria
Age: 19 Years
Occupation: Student (TY - B.M.S, Mumbai University)

It was a bright day, a Wednesday. It was a usual day for everyone, but for me, I was supposed to catch a train to Solapur for my u-19 football national camp. I was excited, yet tensed. It was not to be an exciting day for me, not for any of the Mumbaikars. But well, who knows the future. So it was evening time, and the time to leave. I had to catch a train from CST scheduled for some around 8.30 - 8.45pm leaving for Solapur, so I was ready at around 7.30pm My dad wanted to leave early, but I live just 10 minutes from CST, so I told him that we would leave by 8-8.10. We left my place and got into a cab around 8.10. I was near the McDonalds as we were stopped by the signal and were supposed to take a turn to move into CST when I heard some firing. I was still in the cab with my dad and I was left motionless and then within some 15 seconds, I heard a couple of blasts ...that time I saw a very huge crowd rushing out of CST.

I was still at the signal, when scared people were rushing out. We went blank. We saw women around 5 feet, in their saris, trying to overcome the fence, which was about some 5-and-a-half feet tall. Such was the frightening scene. It was very noisy. I remember people jumping on my taxi; begging to take them home, but alas we had our luggage in the cab so the driver didn’t allow. We took a u-turn and stopped near the McDonalds. We were refusing to go back as I had my football camp. We waited for 5 mins, and seeing the rush of the scared crowd, we decided to leave for home. I stay in a building situated in the G.T. Hospital complex, my mom being a doctor. We lived in the doctor's quarters (High Rise Building) opposite St. Xavier's College B.T. Marg (Badruddin Tyabji Marg). There is about a 100 yards of proper road in a narrow lane in the B.T.Marg, just near the entrance of the lane. Dad told me to wait while he went and checked for the news. He went home, while I waited for some about 3-4 minutes before I went home. I stay on the 14th floor, so I had to use the elevator. Just as I came home, the news said that there was a firing between two local gangs. We thought it might get over soon and we (dad and me) left our home again to head for CST coz there was some time left for the train to leave. We came down and headed out near the entrance of our lane. We saw there was no cab present and people were running away from the CST. They were literally running…we thought that maybe something was more serious then it seemed. We again heard some firing before the crowd of people grew larger and they were panting. People around us advised us to go home and we took it and headed home. Just as I was about to enter the building compound, fellow residents told us to move in fast as they heard in the news that terrorists were coming this way.

Now the scene was turning very dark. We went up, we kept our luggage home and we headed for the terrace. We could clearly hear the bullets being fired as if there were crackers bursting at a distance of 10 metres away from us. The whole surrounding was filled with the firing noises. At that moment I saw a flash of light near the OBEROI TRIDENT. I was surprised and then within few seconds, I, along with my dad and some residents who were with us saw a flash again at the trident. Then we heard a blast and smoke started rising form the trident. My mom who was in the house came up and was panicking. She told us to get back in the house. We came back when dad thought of locking the entrance gate of our compound using the baggage chains. (I know this sounds insane but we had to do whatever we could for safety). So he took the chain and went down the elevator. The noise was getting louder and louder. Before my mom became very uneasy (being a wife she had to be) and called for someone to get my father up, we tried to call him, but it was coming unavailable. Angry with my mom’s uneasiness, I went down to get him back up. So I went down, and I couldn’t see papa. I could just see a couple of watchmen making gestures, telling them to get in fast. I called dad a couple of times, but there was no reply. The gate was being closed, so I decided to head up. I went up when I saw the neighbours anxious. I got confused and asked them if dad came up. They said dad had come up but went down again looking for me. I got scared and I called him on his phone. Thank god he picked up my call and I said I was home, you come up. He came up and we closed the door of our house. I called my pals in the building to tell them to switch off all lights and we were passing the message. We stayed in darkness keeping all the weapons (knives, spear, hammers) ready.

After some time, we could hear the firing as if it was just below our building. We switched off even our cell phones. Then I heard a loud screech of a car. I got anxious and went towards the window to check if I could see anything. God o God, I saw there was firing taking place between the people in the car and someone near the small trees growing by the side of the street. The firing took about some 15-20 seconds and then the men in the car fell. Two people came out of the small trees and headed for the vehicle. They were dressed in all black...carried a huge backpack, and definitely had guns in their hands. They inspected the car and then headed down the road (opposite the entrance of our lane). One of the guys took rest near a big bin. He was very uneasy as he was shaking in pain. The other guy moved further down the lane and again fired from his gun. I couldn’t see where he fired coz there were trees blocking my view. That guy came back, took hold of his partner, and they came near the police car (Qualis) they had fired earlier (it was obvious a police car coz it had a red light over its hood and had the yellow and blue stripping). Just as they were about to open the door, they (as well as I) could see a car coming from down the lane it also had a red light over its hood. One went in the small tress while the other took shelter behind a huge red electricity box. The police car, instead of waiting, just went past the Qualis. After a min or 2, the two guys came out of shelter and they moved for the car doors first one opened the passenger door behind the driver's seat and took out a person- I suppose he was dead - then he took out the driver while the other guy opened the passenger door besides the driver and he took out the person, literally banging him on the ground. They sat in the car, started it, went a few metres and stopped. A guy came out of the car, came near the body of the person who was sitting beside the passenger, and took the gun from him. He sat in the car again and they zoomed off. The helpline at 100 was busy, the bodies of people lay there for 30-45 minutes before some 4-5 vehicles came with a large number of men dressed in black and they took away the bodies. We couldn’t sleep that night. I still have nightmares sometimes. And the rest that followed were the darkest days in Mumbai’s history. All that I have said is very personal and this event affected me a lot. It affected a lot of Mumbaikars, and this is a true story.

Samrat Golhar,
Age: 19,
Occupation: Student

“You can kill people. They are unprepared and not armed like you,” I thought with disdain. I was glued to the TV at my home in Bandra, but I was really far away. I remembered . . . I was the first lady to be selected to work in the Reception and Reservation of the Taj. I had passed some interviews at banks but the pomp and grandeur of the Taj overwhelmed me and drew me like a magnet.

Without hesitation I joined. All day the elite and classy stepped in –Consulates or Embassy personnel, the Nawab of Pataudi, the Maharaja of Patiala, etc etc. They were as generous as elite and sometimes presented me with some tantalizing perfumes. I floated on Cloud Nine and never came down. But Taj had a six-day week – no exception not for Christmas nor Diwali. After two years, I realized that I wanted my own life. I sadly resigned and joined Voltas, which had a five-day week and all bank holidays were off. I was feeling sorry for those killed and injured. But I was positive and knew that when the carnage stopped the perpetrators would be overcome. There would be heroes even among the dead. And yes when Taj opened again, Ratan Tata said: “They can hurt us but they can’t knock us down.”

Name: Oreen Mendez
Age: 71 Years
Occupation: Retired

During November 2008, I was working as network executive with Tata Communications Ltd at 16-Storey VSNL building which is 10 mins walking from CST station. On 26th November 2008 I was working in 2nd shift which is from 1:30pm to 11:00pm. We reach CST station at around 11:10pm after leaving office at 11.

That day just 10 minutes before we were about to leave the office at 11, we heard news from some people that firing had taken place at CST station. Our team leader instructed not to leave the office till the exact news about the firing is not cleared. We went to our rest rooms to catch the news in TV about what exactly occurred and to our shock News channels were filled with horrible news about the terrorist attack in the city. People coming in night shift were asked to refrain from coming to the office. The VSNL building was sealed for coming 2 days. We were stuck at the office for next 2 days working simultaneously, providing 24/7 network support to Tata Communications customers.

Name: Lohit Shetty
Age: 24
Occupation: Software Engineer at LandT Infotech


Hi,
First of all I would like to thank you for always initiating things, which are different from others. I have subscribed HT 1year back and now if I don't get it early in the morning, cannot start my day. It has now become a very important part of my life. I have now subscribed it for two years in advance. My name is AKASH HARYAL,27,working as a Sales Manager in a prominent private insurance company in India. Now the day I think which no body in the country would like to remember, i.e 26/11/2008 was the one of the WORST day of my life. That evening, my friend and me was having appointment with one of the HNI client of our company. As month end was there and target was not achieved, we both were very much worried as well as thrilled to get that deal cracked. But in the evening just before we have to go to meet the customer at Thane, the most cruel thing started. We have received mail from the company stating every one should be in safe area and go to home ASAP. Then I also started getting phone calls as my family was seeing the incident on T.V. They start worrying. I got very angry as my family background was from Indian army. I visited the customer’s place. He advised us to go back and also appreciated our dedication towards job. He didn’t ask a single thing and gave us a cheque of 5L(for investment) only because instead of fear we have respected his words and came there to solve his query. So that day was the worst ever of my life and pray that should never ever be repeated.

Akash Haryal

We were exhilarated with the last phase of our trip to the North East in Darjeeling, having already covered Gangtok, Pelling, and Kalimpong. After reaching the hotel suite as we were unpacking, my 20 yr old daughter came and mentioned that she had received news from a friend that there was some shooting going on in Leopold cafe in Colaba. I assumed it to be a film shoot, but nearly lost my balance when reality struck in the form of a live shootout. I guessed it could be between some rival gangs and not giving it much thought snatched for my much-desired sleep. The next day morning as we descended downstairs towards the hall for breakfast, I noticed an eerie silence with all eyes glued towards the large screen TV. All the news channels were flashing the latest updates of the shootouts in Mumbai, which left me, and my family totally flummoxed. We silently watched the Taj burning in total disbelief. Although it would seem inconsiderate, I thanked the lord for letting my daughter be with us. She studied in the final yr Bcom in a college in Mumbai, living in a hostel nearby Colaba. She often hung out with friends in Colaba Causeway and could've been near the Leopold on that fateful day. These acts of terrorism left my heart shaken. A silent prayer for all the victims was all that seeped my vulnerable mind. The enthusiasm regarding the trip was short lived!

Name: Dipak Kumar Dey
Age: 52
Occupation: Service

I am Utsav Sarvaiya studying in H.R. College of Commerce and Economics in F.Y.bcom(13th grade). This incident took place some 15-20 mins away from my home. On 26/11/2008, I and my 2 friends Jay Soni and Yash Jadhav were returning home at 10 night after attending long hours classes of S.S.C.(10th grade). We were totally not aware of the terror attacks that happened. We haulted at H.N. hospital to have some food and after that we decided to go and have a walk at chowpatty to refresh ourselves so that we can study late night at home. But Jay Soni had some problems due to which we rejected our plan going to chowpatty which lead to our mood off. Soon we reached home. As I stepped in my doorstep all in my home were relieved seeing me. I was shocked as if what happened!

I was then informed about this terror attack. I soon called both of my friends and discussed about this situation. Finally we thanked Jay Soni as because of his cancellation we were safe home. Even Ajmal Kasab was caught at chowpatty at the same time between 10:00 -11:00 which was more frightening thinking about this situation. Moreover, 8 out of my 9 family members were at home and my mummy Anupama Sarvaiya(Mehndi professional artist) was doing her job of putting mehndi at Chowpatty at that time. We were quite worried about her. Ultimately at 12 after doing her job she was dropped home by the driver where she was doing her job. We were just continuously calling our relatives, friends and teachers so as to confirm their safety. All were safe indeed. Next day me and my 2 other friends decided and went to H.N. hospital to help those terror-victims. That was the sad part seeing them. We informed few patient's families.

The whole city had a slump in their throat, was in anger, was in pain. But even after all this, there were no crimes occurred by Indian citizen like rape, murder etc. All were just helping each other, which made our country and our city proud and fearless. SALUTE to the beloved police and army commandos that saved our country our city by playing a risk of their life. Rest in peace. Jai Hind!

Name: Utsav Sarvaiya
Age: 18
Occupation: Student (F.Y.bcom)

26th November is birth date of my loving wife Hemangi and in the evening, we decided to go out for dinner. Along with my wife and me our daughter Anjani and son Shantanu also joined. At Sakinaka junction there is a well-known restaurant, we decided to check in and reached there around 20hrs. I, presume being Sunday the restaurant was full to its capacity with all Mumbaikars busy enjoying their evening.

We were busy enjoying our dinner without realizing what is happening outside. Although there were 6-8 LCD around but all were playing musical or sports channels, so no information about outside world. We live in Parle East and its 15-20 minutes drive back home from Sakinaka. We finished our dinner around 2200Hr till that hour also we did not have any clue of terrorist attack on Mumbai. Around 2220Hr, we were just reaching home, at that time we have received our first frantic call from my Sister-In-law Madhura Mukund Kuklarni followed by my Brother-in-law Amey Krishna Kurade’s call, checking whereabouts of us, as they were aware that we were planning to go out in the evening and during same time a taxi blew up near Vileparle highway. At that point of time, we all were stunned to hear this tragic news of terrorist attacking our Mumbai city. The next immediate step was switching on News channel and calling our friends and relatives living in various part of Mumbai. At the same time we kept receiving calls from our friends and relatives from Mumbai and various part of India.

The attack has brought all of us very close with all our relatives, friends and well wishers. Also made us feel concerned about people who were trapped at various locations. Till the last terrorist was shot dead and siege were over, we were glued to TV watching moment to moment updates happening in Mumbai. We realised how important and vulnerable our Mumbai security system is at the same time appreciating our brave Commandos and Mumbai Police force. This attack also made us very vigil in our approach towards our internal security and value for our life. Our salute to Police force and Commandos for their commitments and sacrifice and remembrance to all those who lost their life.
With warm regards,
Mukesh B. Nautiyal,
A-11, Om Khushal.
Tejpal Scheme 3,
Opp. Union Bank,
Vile Parle (East),
*Mumbai 400 057*.
Age: 46 years
Occupation: Sales and Key A/C’s Manager-Forbo Bonding System, Mumbai

My mobile phone rang at around 10 pm and I was at office working on a presentation to be made next morning to our group CFO. It was a call from my wife informing me of some shooting at Colaba and urging me to leave right away. Seeing no such news on the TV set in my room, I continued working and promptly got another call from her 10 minutes later. It was then that I sensed something might be wrong. I hailed a cab from my Mahalaxmi office and made my way via the JJ flyover to my residence near Metro cinema. The committed cab driver, despite two calls from his family to return home, insisted that he would return only after dropping me to my destination. As we neared the Crawford market intersection, we saw broadcast vans and reporters assembled there. When we further saw nearly 30-40 visibly worried constables manning the Police Commissioner's office gate we began to realise something was seriously amiss. As we slowed down near GT hospital, two guys rushed to my cab and trained their pistols onto my head.

I literally froze in shock for some time and as I realized they were policemen in plainclothes, slowly raised my hands in trepidation to show that I had nothing on me. My cab was allowed to proceed with both the driver and me having to have our hands raised throughout. At home, I saw the reports coming in on TV and finally understood the enormity of the terror that was engulfing Mumbai that night. Around 12 midnight, I heard loud gunshots ringing through the night - that was when the hijacked police van was making its way past Metro Cinema towards Nariman Point. The lights, windows and doors in all the surrounding buildings were switched off or shut instantly lest the terrorists make their way to our homes. I couldn't sleep at all that night and was up till the wee hours of the morning watching the horror unfold with sadness in my heart. I made calls to my friends, colleagues and family members to check on them. One of them who worked at the Taj, whispered that he was fine and that he was locked up with guests in a secure room; he was rescued the next morning. My heart went out to all the victims, bravehearts of 26/11, their friends and families... especially to all those who faced the barrel of the gun that night (and the following two days) and unfortunately weren't lucky enough to make it through.

Name: Hyacinth Ferrao
Age: 35 years
Designation: Financial Controller, Star India

My husband, Alan, and 13-year-old daughter, Naomi, were killed on 26/11 at the Tiffen Restaurant at Oberoi Hotel. I wrote this haiku poem about my experience as I received the news in Florida while visiting my family for Thanksgiving. I am in Mumbai to implement programs about honoring highest values (the sacredness and oneness of life) in education, business and government.
My 26/11 story in Haiku*

Kia Scherr

To the Airport

The final packing -

That one last cup of coffee;

we are on our way.

Laughing together,

airport arrives too quickly.

Time to disembark.
Checking in – long line,

relaxing into oneness

we inch our way forward.


Our good-bye is sweet
They are off to India,
Father and daughter

I, wife and mother
drive back alone this time,
a new experience.
Mumbai, India

First phone call arrives –
So excited to be there;
Oberoi Hotel

In Mumbai city,
a meditation retreat
within luxury.

Each day filled brightly
with so much vibrant color
everywhere they went.

City streets alive
with honking horns and scooters,
occasional cows.

Exciting phone call –
The long awaited nose piercing
turned out perfectly.
Good news for you, dear-
your test scores came in today –
ninety-two percent!

Much to celebrate!

Tell your father right away!
Congratulations!

Little did I know
that would be the last phone call
with sweet Naomi.

Did you hear the news?
Nose piercing, great. Top test score!
I love you, honey.

Little did I know
that would be the last phone call
with dearest Alan.

Florida
A trip on my own
to Florida for Thanksgiving
with sons and family.

Sparkling Tampa Bay
shines with promising good times.
I smile as the plane lands.
Soothing warm sunshine
permeates blue sky, palm trees-
soaking the sidewalk, bare feet.

Checking my email -
No messages today from
Mumbai, India.

Quiet afternoon.
Time to watch Oprah Winfrey;
The phone is ringing.

Kia, turn on the news!
Oberoi Hotel attacked.
Terrorists invade!

I can’t believe it.
How can this be happening?
I drop to the floor.

What’s going on now?
Turn on the TV –
Terrorist attack!

Sitting on the couch,
we are all stunned and afraid.
Where are our dear ones?

Another phone call –
Everyone is accounted
except for those two.

Where are they? Safe? Trapped?
Call the State Department now.
They will update us.

Another day gone.
Father and daughter missing.
All over the news.

Photos on TV -
Prayer groups begin to form.
Emails pouring in.

Our prayers are with you.
We want you to know we care.
Sending all our love.

Friday, 6 a.m.
The confirmation phone call
Both were shot and killed.

No, not both of them.
Dear god, please, not both of them.
So sorry, Mrs. Scherr.

Numbed silence pervades.
The family surrounds me
We cry together.

Another phone call -
CNN asks to share the news.
OK, I tell them.

Father and daughter,
two Americans, both shot.
The girl was thirteen.

All terrorists now killed,
except one, who is captured -
A brainwashed young man.

As Jesus Christ said,
They know not what they do.
We must forgive them.

Must send them our love.
We must be compassionate.
Otherwise, more hate.

Messages come in
from all over the world.
Messages of Love.

Muslims, Jews, Christians,
Hindus, Buddhists and much more –
Together in love.

This is who we are.
This is the gift from Mumbai.
One human family.

From the ashes of darkness….to the light of love.

Kia Scherr
Age 55
President, One Life Alliance (formed in response to 26/11)
www.onelifealliance.org
Currently living in Mumbai