New Delhi: Some memories are made of tangible stuff —like a spent bullet shell, bloodied clothes, a ticket stub or a scrawled message from the NSG commandos. All keepsakes of the night of terror that didn’t end. One year later, these little odds and ends serve a dual purpose — to help remember and to help leave behind:
Sabrina D’Costa, 45, looks at a now-fading missive in chalk, on the unpainted cement wall of her 200-sq ft home in a rickety building opposite Nariman House, Colaba, and says: “Every time I look at it, I remember those three days. But I also get over the fear I felt then.” The message was simple: “Sorry aap ka khana kha liya. Aur ghar ganda kar diya.” The NSG snipers who spent three days positioned at her window had helped themselves to the mutton and chapatis D’Costa had left behind when she fled. “We have bullet holes on the roof too,” says D’Costa, a former chartered accountant who is now struggling to run the house with daughter Steffi’s salary from the Taj President, where she works at the front desk. “I want to paint the wall also, though we’ll leave the message portion.”
Harishchandra Shrivardhankar, 58, has a regular office bag that he lugs around everyday. Only, it’s now something of a legend —- he hit terrorist Abu Ismail with it. Shrivardhankar was on his way to CST that night when he realised there was trouble and slipped into the Cama Hospital to hide. “After I reached the fifth floor, I came face to face with Ismail who attacked me with a knife. I took the bag and hit him, and he fell down.” He believes the bag saved him because he was carrying niyaz (food) and gulaab (rose) brought from a dargah.
Maruti Phad, 33, remembered to tell his friend even as he lay in hospital to find his blood-stained clothes. “This is the only memory I have from that night and I plan to keep it for the rest of my life,” says the driver who took bullets in his hand and back as he tried to steer the government vehicle out of the Rang Bhavan lane, where three top police officials were later killed even as he lay in his car, pretending to be dead. While he lost one finger of his right hand, Phad also himself removed a bullet lodged in his back, just below the waistline.
Mukesh Agarwal was managing the newly opened Re-Fresh restaurant at CST when he became one of the first victims of Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail. His souvenir from that night is a pair of jeans. “I was on the phone with my friends who warned me about the gunfire at Taj and Leopold, and within no time I was shot in my stomach.”
Bharat Nevadiya from Vasai has still kept a copy of a railway ticket for a journey dated November 27, 5 am, aboard the Geetanjali Express from CST to Kolkata, a journey he never made. Instead, he lost his young wife and his job after being shot in the arm, and is now struggling to fend for his son Viraj (2) and daughter Anjali (4), both of whom suffered minor shrapnel injuries. “The ticket was blood-stained, but I actually kept it to seek compensation, since we never boarded the train,” says Nevadiya.
Sachin Singh, 7, has an unsightly lump on his hand where he took a bullet. Residents of Vikhroli, Poonam Singh, 37, and her sons were on their way to board the Mahanagari Express to Varanasi when terror struck at CST. The family is looking for a private plastic surgeon whose fees they can afford. Sachin himself still keeps a denim jacket he had on that day — one bullet passed through it and hit his thigh. “Well, I can still wear it,” he says.
Devika Rotawan, 11, is the darling of her locality, thanks mostly to the media attention she received after being the youngest to depose in court against Kasab. “Gussa aata hai,” she says, when asked what she remembers of that day. No fear? “Never... Even when I saw him in court, I was only angry.”
Sanjay Bhaswe, 42, resident of Colaba earns his living by taking tuitions. But when the NSG men arrived, Bhaswe personally stayed with a group of commandos for two whole days, giving them directions in and around the maze of buildings around the Chabad House. During the gunbattle, he collected some empty shells that landed inches away from him from the commandos’ guns. “These are my mementos. I always carry this shell with me.”