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26/11: Turning The Page

For people at the four sites with the highest casualties during the 26/11 attacks four years ago, the hanging of Ajmal Kasab earlier this week has brought relief but also sparked questions. Pankti Mehta, Aarefa Johari,Suprateek Chatterjee and Humaira Ansari report.

mumbai Updated: Nov 25, 2012 12:33 IST

For people at the four sites with the highest casualties during the 26/11 attacks four years ago, the hanging of Ajmal Kasab earlier this week has brought relief but also sparked questions.

From paranoia to relief
Vishnu Zende watched with disbelief as news of Ajmal Kasab’s hanging flashed across his TV screen on Wednesday morning.

An announcer at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the scene of the worst carnage on 26/11 four years ago, Zende watched several channels before absorbing the fact that the end had indeed come for the only terrorist of 10 captured alive during the terror attack.

“I felt very thankful that Kasab got the toughest sentence. He deserved it,” said Zende.

From his unique vantage point of the announcer’s box overlooking all the platforms, Zende had seen Kasab and another terrorist storming the station at approximately 9:50 pm and opening fire. Instead of running for cover, Zende alerted the crowds at the station about the danger, instructing them to escape from a back gate, thus saving hundreds of lives.

"I left my cabin an hour later, when the terrorists had gone and everyone had been evacuated," he recalls. "Blood covered the floor. Luggage, glass shards and dead bodies lay strewn about. It was the scariest sight I’ve seen."https://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/11/25-11-12-pg12a.jpg

His colleague Gyaneshwar Pathak, a deputy station manager, was called back to the station to help reschedule departures and arrivals.

“The station began functioning from the next day, but you could sense paranoia in the air,” he recalls. “A few days later, a rumour that another attack was under way began spreading just because an owner of a store at the station brought his shutter down with a bang. Over time, the anxiety lifted.”

Pathak hopes that Kasab’s execution will deter other terrorists. “They know that they will be given the ultimate punishment,” he says.
— Pankti Mehta

Waiting for tourists to return
The streets around Taj Mahal Palace hotel are like a second home for Ashok Desai and his horse, Bachcha. For 13 years, the two have been trotting around the area, surviving on a once-thriving horse carriage-ride business.

“After the 26/11 attacks, I felt I had been robbed of my livelihood,” says Desai, 28, while trying to attract a group of tourists. “Gateway of India has had fewer visitors in the past four years, and for carriage drivers like me, business has reduced drastically.”

On that night in 2008, Desai was waiting for customers in front of the Taj when the sound of gunshots rang through the air. “For a while, I was stunned. Then there were more shots, screams and I saw people running from the lanes behind the hotel,” he says.

Panic-stricken, Desai yanked his horse’s reins and galloped away, just as the terrorists entered the Taj. For two months, he could not return to the area, and had to contend with working from another spot.

In the four years since the attacks, says Desai, the vibe around the Taj has changed completely.

“People are scared. We now rarely get rides after 8 pm, and are forced to charge nearly Rs. 100 less than we used to for a ride,” says Desai, who still can’t get over the horror of watching “Mumbai’s biggest tourist symbol” caught in flames. “Earlier, the Taj staff often recommended our carriage rides to their guests, but now all that is gone too.”

Ajmal Kasab’s execution has come as a salve.

“I was overjoyed when I saw the news on TV. I’ve spent four long years working in fear. Now that he is dead, there is nothing to be afraid of,” says Desai. “I hope that tourists leave their fear behind too and my business picks up again.”
— Aarefa Johari

What about the masterminds?
At lunchtime on Friday, two days after Ajmal Kasab was hanged, the parking lot opposite Trident, a five-star hotel in south Mumbai that terrorists attacked four years ago, is full. About 100 cars are gleaming in the mid-day sun, estimates Narendra Mishra, 32, who has been a parking attendant there since he moved to the city from Allahabad in 2001.

But for two months after the terror attacks four years ago, it was empty.

“On most days, we wouldn’t see more than two or three cars parked here,” he says.

“I missed the attack by two or three minutes,” he says, shuddering at the memory. “I had walked ahead to the main junction, at around 9.30 pm, when I heard gunfire.” A businessman who used to frequent the hotel drove past him in his BMW and offered him a lift. “Everyone was running scared,” he says.

He returned home and was glued to the news on television till the wee hours of the morning. “I called my mother (in Allahabad) and she asked me to come home immediately,” he says. The next morning, Mishra was on a train to Allahabad.

News of Ajmal Kasab’s hanging doesn’t give Mishra much to cheer about. “What’s the point of doing it four years later, after the government fed him and protected him with our money?” he asks. “It should have been done immediately, and we should have spent all this time trying to hunt down the real masterminds.”

Mishra also feels that the government should release to the public a video showing Kasab’s hanging. “How do we know he didn’t die of dengue fever?” he says.
— Suprateek Chatterjee

Hanging came late, but justice has finally been served
For the staff of Cama & Albless Hospital, attacked on the night of 26/11, the second half of November has meant mentally preparing themselves to relive their trauma.

Every year, they have narrated in excruciating detail to media crews how they continued working silently while terrorists entered the hospital’s compound.

The interviews usually take place on the sixth floor of the hospital’s new wing, where the Mumbai police exchanged gunfire with Ajmal Kasab and his companion Abu Ismail. The entire ordeal left left several policemen and two of the hospital’s security guards dead.

Four years later, the sixth-floor’s bullet-riddled lift door still serves as a compelling backdrop.

This time, the nurses, watchmen and ward boys spoke with an edge of jubilation.

“When I saw the news on TV, it turned into a very special morning,” says Madhuri Rahate, 47, smiling. The nurse distributed barfis in the cancer ward, where she had been on duty during the attacks.

"Kasab should have been hanged much earlier," says Pravin Narkar, a young security guard, whose father Bhau Narkar, and another security guard, Bhabhan Ugde, fell to the terrorists’ bullets that night. "For four years, I have been guarding this building sitting on my father's chair, a few feet away from where he was shot," he says. "Finally, justice has been served."

— Humaira Ansari