In one fell swoop, Mumbai Police lost some of its brightest officers. CST, Taj, Oberoi Trident, Chabad House, one by one, Mumbai's most known landmarks were held hostage by a group of gunmen
I vividly remember that date.
I suspect we all do, though we try our best to shove those terrible memories into the darkest recesses of our minds. 26/11 shattered forever the illusion of safety for most of us. We were no longer safe in the heart of our city. It was like a deadly bomb went off in our own living rooms!
Who can forget the blurry, grainy television images of the iconic dome of the Taj engulfed in angry flames? Who can forget the black and white pics of the carnage at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, blood stains and bodies lying everywhere? Who can forget the grainy, blurry footage of a crazed killer in a sweatshirt, moving stealthily, an AK-47 in his hands?
In one fell swoop, Mumbai Police lost some of its brightest officers. CST, Taj, Oberoi Trident, Chabad House, one by one, Mumbai's most known landmarks were held hostage by a group of gunmen.
I clutched my kids' hands tightly, feeling the clamminess of my own palm, as we set out for the Agricultural Fair in Pune the next morning. I was determined not to stay at home, determined to act 'normal'. My kids were not even three years old then.
The fairground was deserted. Vendors huddled together in scared little clusters discussing the events in low voices, their stalls forgotten. There were cops everywhere and they looked scared too. As we walked around, we heard a deafening roar as Coast Guard choppers flew overhead, in a neat and precise formation. My children clapped their hands, as they watched the choppers disappear, their cherubic faces shining with delight. All the adults stared on uncomprehending. A thick cloud of raw fear hung over us like some abhorrent, strong animal scent.
It was a bright, sunny winter morning in Pune, but it seemed like an opaque curtain had been drawn across our hearts. Only the children were unaffected, gurgling happily, trying the dodgem cars, laughing, gesticulating, secure in their innocence, liberated by their ignorance.
I returned home in the afternoon to sit glued to the TV, watching horror descend in all its sinister glory upon the city of Mumbai. The city I once called home. The city that I felt so safe in, I thought nothing of walking back home from the station all alone at midnight.
Some of the most celebrated TV anchors of the time asked the most insensitive questions, thrusting their mikes like obscene weapons in people's faces, asking them the most insensitive questions.
'How do you feel right now'? Asked a celebrated lady anchor, breathless, earnest and ghoulish, looking rather like a cat that has spied a whole bowl of cream! She looked like she could pee in her pants with excitement! The same anchor revealed the position of the NSG commandos on live TV, allowing the terrorists to track them and change their position accordingly. The media behaved like blood-thirsty vultures.
I looked on as a chubby Baby Moshe stared at the camera, an uncomprehending look in his wide eyes. His nanny held him. His parents were dead after hours of torture. Moshe was of about the same age as my children. Scenes after scenes of blood and gore unfolded, bodies lying in tangled heaps in the foyer of CST, scattered half-open suitcases, clothes hanging out of them, lying abandoned at the station, little pools of blood splattered over the grimy tiled floor.
The most poignant image was of a kolhapuri chappal, a single, old, scruffy, much-worn, humble chappal lying on the platform, perhaps abandoned there by the panic struck owner, as a cold-blooded monster in Cargo pants and a black sweatshirt opened fire indiscriminately, a crazed, demented look in his eyes.
I can never forget the dark circles under the eyes of the NSG commandos when they finally staggered out of the hotels, three days later, their mission accomplished! There was no joy in their faces, no exhilaration. Just a hollow, exhausted emptiness. Who can forget the tragic sight of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s lifeless body, his mother’s all-consuming grief, and his father’s stoic dignity?
26/11 also revealed exemplary courage shown by ordinary people, the wait staff at the restaurants in the Taj, the railway staff at CST, a poorly paid cop called Tukaram Omble who lost his life, but captured the lone terrorist caught alive, that hideous thing called Ajmal Kasab!
The 26/11 attacks also revealed the utter callousness and sheer incompetence of the Congress governments and politicians both at the Centre and in the state. Kerala chief minister Achyutanandan had the temerity to say in a television interview that "If it had not been Sandeep's (Major Unnikrishnan) house, not even a dog would have gone there", after martyred Major Unnikrishnan’s father refused to meet Achyutanandan.
RR Patil, Maharashtra’s home minister at the time had to resign after his callous comment trivialising the 26/11 attacks, "Bade bade deshon mein chhote cheez hote rehte hai" (small things happen in big countries), Patil has said, about the largest terror attack in Indian history that lasted for four days.
The then CM of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh played tourist guide and encouraged disaster tourism as he took filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma on a tour of the terror-hit Taj and Oberoi hotels. He was accompanied by his actor son Riteish Deshmukh.
For weeks after 26/11, I went to bed angry and scared. I was thankful for the warmth of my children sleeping next to me, safe in their beds. Yet, I wondered all the time, what if we were one of the victims?
26/11 had taken away every last scrap of security that I felt in my own city, in my own country. No matter how many nakabandis are there, no matter how many metal detectors guard the gates of railway stations, no matter how many terrorists are hanged, I wouldn’t feel safe again for a long, long time!
Last Updated 27, Nov 2018, 1:21 PM IST