tears that will open our eyes & hearts
tears that will open our eyes & hearts

Heroes of Nariman House

Posted: Jan 04, 2009 The Indan Express

By Sudheendra Kulkarni


How about using the first column of 2009 to write about an experience that will spread hope, happiness and good thoughts?

I spent the last 10 days of December in Mumbai, and participated in two events associated with the Terror attacks of 26/11. The first was on December 21, when the Taj Mahal Hotel reopened its tower wing. The solemnity of the ceremony was made more memorable by Ratan Tata’s defiant words: “The enemies of India may have hurt us, but they will never knock us down.” The longest applause, of course, was reserved for the hotel employees who showed exemplary courage and dedication to duty even when death stared them in their faces. They were led by general manager Karanbir Kang, whose name has already joined the many legends of the Taj. He was busy saving guests on the ground floor, even as his own wife and two children were trapped in fire—and later found dead—in their top-floor room.

Another place, many more legends. On December 26, I attended a commemorative function near Nariman House, also in Colaba. The world watched a never-seen-before commando operation here against Pakistani terrorists, who had stormed a Jewish prayer centre, killing six inmates, one commando, Gajendra Singh, and four locals in the vicinity. Two images will remain etched in the minds of TV viewers: National Security Guard’s black-cat commandos being abseiled from a helicopter on the terrace of Nariman House; and hundreds of local residents shouting ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ on the morning of November 29, as they bade a heartfelt goodbye to the commandos after they successfully completed the operation.But how many people know that this is where local Muslims rescued Hindu families in neighbouring buildings; where Shiv Sena activists saved Christian families and gave protection to a nearby mosque and a madarassa; where a Parsi baker—his bakery, located bang opposite Nariman House, still carries scores of bullet marks from the terrorists’ AK-47s—distributed bread to hungry neighbours; and where a Christian do-gooder carried the bullet-ridden body of a Hindu girl on his shoulders, reached her to the hospital and a month later, on Christmas, played Santa to her in the hospital ward?

The function near Nariman House was organised by Vijay Surve, head of the Shiv Sena’s Colaba branch. He and his ‘boys’ evacuated hundreds of residents of the nearby buildings before NSG commandos arrived—10 hours after the attack. Since the commandos from Delhi had no knowledge of the narrow lanes of this highly congested part of Colaba, Shiv Sainiks assisted them in every possible way. The Sena has the image of being an anti-Muslim organisation. But this stereotype was broken by what I saw at the function and, later, by conducting three days of extensive interviews in the neighbourhood. Surve proudly showed me the letter he received from the NSG, in which the commander who led the operation has expressed “deepest gratitude” to the locals for their help.