A rewind to the night that haunts Mumbai

A rewind to the night that haunts Mumbai

A rewind to the night that haunts Mumbai

On this Wednesday morning when the sole surviving gunman Ajmal Amir Kasab was hanged in in a Pune jail, it was a traumatic rewind to that Wednesday night almost four years ago, a night that citizens of the Maximum City, or even the country, are unlikely to forget. 

Terror came calling on India's financial and entertainment capital on the night of Nov 26, 2008 and stayed for 60 hours as 10 Pakistani gunmen laid bloody siege to some of the city's most loved landmarks, killing 166 people, injuring about 300 and leaving behind scars perhaps never to be healed.

As Mumbaikars readied for dinner, were settling down in front of the television or getting ready to party perhaps, the terrorists, that included Kasab, who was possibly their youngest member, sneaked into their city at about 9.30 p.m. Heavily armed, yet undetected, they nonchalantly got off dinghys at Colaba, walked to the fishing village and hailed taxis to begin their terror mission that ended only late afternoon on Nov 29.

The locations were chosen with meticulous attention to detail - carefully targeting both the elite and the common Mumbai citizen. They fanned out to various places, including the landmark Taj Mahal and Palace Hotel, the Oberoi Trident close to it, the popular Leopold Café, the Chabad House of Jewish religion and the always busy Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST).

Most of these were in an area of four-five kilometres. In the hours that followed, people the world over watched horrified as India's worst terror attack unfolded on their television screens for not one day or two, but three whole days.

The closure of sorts that came with the secret hanging of Kasab was in complete contrast to the public telecast of the three days of mayhem. Security personnel, including from the National Security Guard, the army and the navy, battled hard to overcome the gunmen.

Kasab, then only about 21 years old, was the only one to be caught alive. Caught on CCTV casually walking down CST with a backpack and an Ak-47 slung across his shoulder, he was nabbed on the first day itself by the intrepid assistant sub-inspector Tukaram Omble, who grappled with the heavily armed terrorist who shot him to death.

There were scores of profiles in courage, many who laid down their lives trying to protect others even as they came under attack -- police officers Vijay Salaskar and Hemant Karkare, CST announcer Vishnu Zende, Rabbi Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka… The list was long.

The Chabad House, a Jewish community centre in the heart of the city targeted for being a link to Israel, was under siege too. When the bloodbath there ended Friday afternoon, rescuers found nine bodies, including that of the young rabbi and his wife. Their toddler son had been rescued by the nanny.

The imprint of blood had been left in other places too, in the bullet pockmarked walls of Leopold Café, in the plush interiors of the Oberoi Trident, in the open platform of CST.

The bloodbath ended at the Taj Hotel on the afternoon of Saturday, Nov 29. Bang opposite Gateway of India, and one of the more enduring images of Mumbai, thick smoke had billowed out of its famous domed exteriors and loud sounds were heard as the terrorists used every arsenal in their possession to kill and maim.

Finally, after the militants were curbed, the last of the survivors was brought out by security personnel, trembling and terrified but grateful of the many bravehearts inside who had helped them through the ordeal.

Amongst them was the hotel manager Karambir Singh Kang, who lost his wife and two young sons in the bloodbath. But in the highest traditions of professionalism, continued to work through the hours.

Just one of the many hundreds who suffered. Maybe, the hanging of Kasab provided them some closure, or in a sense some justice, as the wife and daughter of Inspector Vijay Salaskar, who was killed by Kasab and his colleague, told NDTV.

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