Mumbai: Not every hero wears a cape, some wear an apron and a hat. Chef Hemant Oberoi, who risked his life to save dozens of guests at Taj Mahal Palace hotel during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, is one among them.
It's been 11 years since the deadliest terror attack shook the nation, and its memories still echo in people's hearts and minds.
In an interview with IANS, Oberoi, who was head chef of the five-star hotel at that time, recounted the brutal incident, sharing the lessons he learnt from the tragedy.
"We were busy working in the kitchen. One of the chefs came to me and said that a shooting was going on. I thought a film's shoot was going on at the hotel but then we realised it was a terror attack. Instead of panicking, I gathered my staff and I immediately told them to switch off the lights in the area and lock the doors. That's what we did to rescue our guests," he recalled.
For Oberoi, it was not a "heroic act". He says he was just "doing his duty".
"Atithi Devo Bhava. I simply believe in this. For us, guests are like God. How to save our guests was the only thing going in my mind at that time. We were taking every moment differently. We were taking decisions each minute. It was not about heroism, we were just doing our duty," he added.
In 2008, 10 Pakistani terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba sneaked into Mumbai and gunned down over 160 people. Over the course of their attack, nine of them were killed while one -- Mohammed Ajmal Kasab -- was arrested and finally executed in November 2012. Arriving in Mumbai from Karachi, Pakistan, by a fishing trawler, the 10 terrorists unleashed mass destruction at the city's hubs such as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Cafe Leopold, Cama and Albless Hospital, Nariman House, and Oberoi-Trident Hotel.
After battling the life-and-death situation 11 years ago, Oberoi vowed to himself that he would work at bringing the hotel back to life.
"The incident made us so strong. It changed our perspective towards life. After the incident, the whole management decided to unite and reopen the hotel in 20-odd days. The entire restaurant was destroyed but our team worked very well and brought everything back," he said.
Oberoi, who lost a lot of his young and senior colleagues in the attack, "gives a salute" to their families.
"I always pay tribute to the victims and their families. We are proud of them and I want to salute them," Oberoi said, urging people to always help each other.
Anthony Maras' film "Hotel Mumbai", which revolves around the fateful attack on the hotel, opens this weekend. The film portrays the bravery that Oberoi and other hotel staff displayed during the heinous attack. Anupam Kher essays Oberoi's character in the film, which also features Dev Patel and Hollywood star Armie Hammer in important roles.