THIS IS A NON PHOTOGAPHIC POST
26th November 2008.
26th November 2008. A date that will be etched in the memory of every true blue Mumbaikar in particular and every Indian in general. I was at home when I got a call from my college friend who told me about some firing going on in CST, near BMC building, a place we all were at just a couple of hours back.
I switched on the TV to see all the news channels showing grabs from CST stn, Leopolds Café, The Taj Mahal hotel and Oberoi Trident hotel. According to the media, there was some gang war going on in the streets of Mumbai. No one had the remotest clue that this was something much bigger than a mere gang war.
Gang wars are generally carried out on the streets, so I wasn’t really that bothered, as it would be under control soon. Soon news of hand grenade blasts were flashed, and it made me wonder, since when did gang wars have use of hand grenades. It was scary. In the meanwhile I kept getting calls from friends who thought this was some sort of a terrorist attack, but I declined those claims as this was not the terrorists’ preferred modus operandi. Generally a terrorist attack involves planting bombs in multiple locations. There is no street fight involved in a terrorist attack.
This is where I made a grave mistake in my thinking, as just after a while I saw a news flash informing us about a blast in the Dockyard Road station, which is just a 10 minute walk from my residence. It was a bomb in a taxi. A definite sign that this was a terrorist attack. Within minutes the screen flashed about bomb blasts in Vile Parle and Grant Road. I knew that I was witnessing a brand new modus operandi. I was glued to the TV set.
The places being shown on TV were ones that me and my college buddies frequent on a regular basis: 8kg RDX was found at Bade Miyans, our regular joint for after college snacking; attackers were seen on the FOB leading to the TOI building, the one that I use every single day to go to college; blast at Mazagoan, which is close to my residence. After 1992 this was the closest I had got to the terror attacks.
The reporting by the media left me horrified though. Being trained in the field of journalism, I saw how the broadcast news channels were putting to dust, many of the ethics that we were being taught in the course, in the rush to grab eyeballs. There was one scene wherein an injured onlooker who was holding onto his bloodied hand, was made to keep it in a particular way so that the video journalist could grab a shot of it. Moreover, the evacuated hostages being asked stupid redundant questions like “how are you feeling”, were really in bad taste.
CNN – IBN seemed like it had absolutely no clue as to what was going on outside South Mumbai. It was thanks to the Hindi News Channels that I came to know about the blasts happening around other areas like Mazagoan, Vile Parle and Grant Road. This was quite surprising.
27th November 2008:
When I was woken up the next day by a call from a friend at 645am in the morning, I came to know that the terrorists had killed 14 cops including 3 top brass officials like ATS Chief Hemant Karkare, AGP Ashok Kamte and Encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar. It was a real sad start to my day, as just 5 hours back I had seen live footage of Mr. Karkare putting on the safety helmet and the Kevlar vest. To wake up and hear of his death first thing in the morning was not really lifting up my spirits. It seemed as if the Mumbai Police were left without any direction as 3 top cops has become victims themselves.
Colleges and schools were shut down for obvious reasons. Trains and bus services were also cancelled in certain parts of Mumbai. It was obvious that not many Mumbaikars would venture out today. The whole day I was getting quite impatient, by the hour. Being a journalist in the making I was feeling quite frustrated staying put at home and not being at the place of action. At the same time there was an underlying fear factor.
Quotes from the political class were hopeless and spineless. Vilasrao Deshmukh said at 530pm that the operation would be over in half an hour. But we all knew that he was just buying time. Also news of PM, Sonia Gandhi and L.K.Advani planning to come to Mumbai were being flashed. I was angered at this gesture. I mean, what was the whole point of touring the city now, when the police couldn’t afford to divide its force to provide security for these politicians.
The NSG and the army had taken over the complete control and there was a 3 tier setup in the operation according to the Army Chief J.K.Dutt. He said that the NSG was taking care of operations within the hotels. Army took care of the outer premises of the hotels and the Police took care of cordoning off the areas.
The operations didn’t prevent terrorists from pelting hand grenades and firing rounds of bullets. Seeing the Dome of the Taj burn was the saddest image of the day for me. I mean the Taj Mahal Hotel is the pride of every Mumbaikar and to see it up in flames really hurt me in a way. I just hoped that the structure wasn’t damaged beyond control. The fire brigade was a bit late, but the fires were doused asap. Oberoi Trident on the other hand was being held hostage by 5-6 terrorists. Broken windows were the major irritating factor as far as Trident was concerned. Combing operations in the TAJ were on in full swing. Fire did break out in the Oberoi Trident and Taj again at night. I frankly lost count of the no.of times the blasts had occurred in the Taj and Trident.
The situation in the Nariman House was something bizarre. There were Jewish residents here who were held guilty. And since the place is located in one of those narrow alleyways of the South Mumbai area, the operations here were being carried out very slowly.
The media correspondents have to be given a hats off. I mean most of the correspondents on the field were there for over 24 hours and they still looked fresh. Correspondents like Toral Varia, Yogita Limaye from CNN – IBN among others have practically put up tent near the Taj and Oberoi, as they were always there to give the latest information.
It was surprising to learn that the terrorists had come via the sea route from Karachi, Pakistan. The unheard of outfit, Deccan Mujahideen claiming responsibility for the attacks, was being held as a new front of the dreaded LeT. “These bastards need to be killed on the spot, no questions asked”, was the only thought going through my mind.
The terrorists carrying out the attacks did not look more than 25 years of age. What sick brainwashing must they have gone through to take up this operation which they knew would ultimately result in their death, was intriguing.
28th November 2008
When I got up today morning, after having exhausted myself by watching the news update till 2am in the morning, I was hoping that I would get to hear the good news that all the operations were successful. Instead all I could see flashing on the screen was “Final Assault” to be carried out soon. I had read that line yesterday as well, so I knew that the situation was far from over.
Commandos were dropped via a chopper on the terrace of the Nariman House building. It was refreshing to see this move. But the attack wasn’t instant. I did not know how long it would go on.
Meanwhile, news of fresh blasts were heard in and around Oberoi hotel. The Taj still had 2 more terrorists in it, according to NSG DG, as opposed to the all clear news flash I had seen yesterday.
On a personal level I was left Angry, Confused and Frustrated. Angry, because we have become such a soft target for terrorists. Inspite of undergoing so many terrorist attacks there is fairly little that we have learnt. The politicians are a hopeless lot. I don’t expect much from them anyways. But it was saddening to see the state of the Mumbai Police. It’s very unfair to expect them to fight the highly armed terrorists who brandish AK-47s and AK-56s with a lathi or at the most a .303 service revolver. Moreover, the BJP using this attack as a means to accelerate their votebank politics is a sickening gesture in itself.
But then, as an individual, I know my limitations. I cannot go on blaming others, as I myself am clueless as to what I can contribute in reducing this menance. When that feeling of helplessness overtakes you, trust me, nothing is more frustrating.
As I write this the rescue operations at The Taj Mahal Hotel, Oberoi Trident hotel and Nariman House are still being carried out. Its been over 36 hours since the terrorists have taken over the hotels, and NSG is still on hot pursuit.
I have been glued to the TV channels ever since I got that call from my buddy. And I don’t think I will be able to concentrate on anything till this operation is completely over and done with. I just hope this ordeal ends soon and every hostage reunites back with his/her family asap. Unrealistic as it may sound, I just hope that my Mumbai dosent have to witness such an incident again, ever! After all this is my Mumbai!!