With son, daughter-in-law gone, Parekhs now worry for their grandkids' lives
Businessman Sunil Parekh and his wife Reshma were shot dead by terrorists at the Oberoi. Since then, the family has shielded their two daughters, Arundhati and Anandita, from the world. Sayli Udas Mankikar reports.india Updated: Nov 25, 2014 17:37 IST
Time stands still at the sprawling sea-facing apartment of the Parekhs, located in a tony neighbourhood along Mumbai's iconic Marine Drive. The flickering flames of three oil lamps, burning in front of a garlanded photograph, add to the sombre mood in the sitting room. The photograph is of businessman Sunil Parekh and his wife Reshma, who were shot dead at the Tiffin restaurant in Oberoi Hotel in the 2008 terror attacks.
The sitting area, which resembles a memorial room, has blown up photos of the couple with their daughters, a painting chosen by Sunil depicting his shipping dreams, a poem written by a friend about the couple and small mementos, family photo albums collected by the two over their several foreign trips.
The couple, who were in their early 40s then, left behind two daughters Arundhati (18) and Anandita (17), both students of The Cathedral and John Connon School in South Mumbai. They are now looked after jointly by their grandparents and aunt's family (father's sister).
"These lamps are kept burning all the time, for the past five years. You can see, life has come to a standstill. I continue to exist only for my granddaughters. My only wish is to live to the point when we see that they have grown up and can take care of themselves," said a tearful Sevanti J Parekh, a businessman and president of the Cricket Club of India (CCI).
In the past five years, much has changed for the Parekh family.
81-year-old Sevanti, who was enjoying his retirement, had to get back to his shipping business and his daughter Sujata Parekh Kumar moved into an adjoining apartment with her family to support the girls.
His wife Sarla Parekh (80) fought her own battle.After the terror attack of November 26, 2008, she has filed two public interest litigations (PILs) - one on CCTVs and the other on compensation -- but has lost faith over the system now.
Sunil Parekh and his wife Reshma
"We had fought the case on CCTVs right upto the Supreme Court where we pledged to collect money from citizens for the project. But the apex court told us that it is the prerogative of the government. In these 5 years, nothing has moved. It's time people unite and approach the SC on this issue," Sarla said.
Sevanti is furious and is liberal in criticising the system where the CCTV project is concerned.
"Is getting a CCTV system in place some sort of rocket science? The fact is that the bidding system is so mired in pulls and pressures of politicians that this seems as one of the reasons why they are dragging their feet on this issue. There are several experts who can be consulted, credible Indian companies who can get technologically sound and security system in place. Why breach our security for this?" he questioned.
After the 26/11 terror attacks, the Maharashtra government had decided to install 6,000 CCTV cameras in Mumbai. However, the Rs 864-crore project has seen two tender processes fall off due to several reasons.Sarla pointed out that the policemen are always busy in VIP security and have no time for commoners. "I tried to file several RTI queries on security checks at the hotel where my son died and areas around, but I did not get a reply to any of them. My second PIL on compensation by the hotel establishment to people who were financially weak has also got derailed. My lawyer asks me if I will be fit enough to fight the case, if it comes up after 7-8 years," she added.
Sarla Parekh and Sevanti J Parekh
Remembering the unfortunate day when Sunil and Reshma died, Sevanti said that if Mumbai had followed the New York security system, they could have been alerted and would have managed to escape.
"There, even the smallest motel is supposed to have an alarm system which can go off by tapping a button at foot level. Here my son had no idea. He barely entered the restaurant and he died in the first five minutes," he says. The family got confirmation of their deaths only 2 days later on November 28, 2008.
But the elderly couple is not willing to wait for the surveillance system and more policemen to come in place anymore. They want to shift their granddaughters out of the country.
"Every day, I tell my husband we should leave this country, but we are old. Next year, one of the girls will be gone to study abroad, the next will follow later. I want to see them safe. Here we are constantly paranoid about their security," Sarla revealed. She added, they hope that the two settle abroad and never have to come back to Mumbai again.
"You can see we have everything -- a house, a business, property, but I still want them to go away, hoping they find jobs, work hard and settle there," said Sevanti, who has lived in Mumbai all his life.
The old couple is so fearful, that they haven't let the granddaughters travel by public transport anywhere for the past 5 years. The girls have to constantly update them on their whereabouts, answer their phone calls and never go out alone.
"I would like them to go to school in the school bus with everyone, but our fear does not allow it. They have never sat in a train or a bus. I even realise that their freedom is being curbed, and interaction is limited. It's a fear psychosis, we can't help it," Sevanti admitted. But once they are in cities like London or New York, he felt it will be better.
"Today they are fine, tomorrow when they grow up further they might think we are snooping on them, which is not the case. So even though we will miss them terribly, they will be in a free space, and in a safer one too," Sevanti added.