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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

26/11.. My Experience from years ago

Although I was not in any of the places where people got shot / bombed, I've never gotten around to writing what we were doing on that night, but, looking back it's pretty scary!

This happened at the time when I was still working at Hinduja Hospital. There were two observers working in our department of Surgery from overseas. Karan was from South Africa and Nitin from the US. They had both come down to gauge the clinical processes in the Indian Healthcare System.
We had planned a night out, seeing that they would be leaving towards the end of November. They wanted to go to a place where they could chill and have a drink. We got all our friends around and decided to go to Leopold.

My wife and me have been Leopold fans for a while now, but off late their service had become greatly tipped towards foreigners. We decided to head off to Mondy's (Cafe Mondegar) instead.
There we were, sitting and enjoying the jukebox and beer when all of a sudden they started closing their long wooden windows. On inquiry, the waiter told us there was some sort of gang shooting happening outside and we should stay put and it should all be fine soon. This was around 9.15 pm. I clearly remember a BEST double-decker stationary outside.

Strange, I thought and made a mental note. In a couple of minutes, between my wife and me, we received 5-6 phone calls ranging from Ahmednagar to Dubai saying that there was some sort of blasts in Colaba and asking whether we were safe? Of course, at that time, all I could do was say in the usual Bombay drawl, it's all cool, there's nothing much happening here.

We continued our drinks till about 10.30 pm blissfully unaware of what was happening outside. When we finally decided to leave, the bus was gone but there were barricades outside and about a dozen cops. When we took the car out, we were told there are some people walking around Colaba with guns and we can't drive down causeway. I told them that we live at Strand and we need to get home. They asked us to go via madam cama road. We did. We had with us a dear friend from Navy Nagar and she had to be dropped home. We took the back road and reached RC Church to find armed guards at the naval gate. They would not let us in to drop her home. My wife got into a heated argument with the guards along with my friend saying that if there was a dangerous situation there, wouldn't it be foolish to ask a lady to walk back home from the security gate. Anyone who knows navy nagar knows there is a fair distance between the gate and any of the buildings. After a while, they agreed to let my wife drive my friend home whilst the rest of us, Karan, Nitin and me waited outside at the gate.

Once she was back, we were slowly starting to realise that the situation must be pretty bad for the security guards to behave in such a manner. We decided to head back as soon as possible. On the way back, we were once again stopped at Sassoon Docks, with people telling us we can't drive through there onto S.B.S. Marg. There has been a bomb blast on the road, he said. How am I to reach home, I asked them? They said take the back road.

This back road I keep referring to is actually the Badhwar Park Road. The same place where the now infamous group entered my Bombay! We took that road and reached the electric house signal. Once again, we were stopped by the public. There were hardly any cops here yet. As luck would have it, one of the people knew us quite well. He worked in my wife's cousins shop. He convinced the crowd to let us go and that we stay close by.

This is another thing that is clearly etched in my brain. I made that drive from Electric house to Strand Cinema in less than 20 seconds and I did not see one thing moving on that road at that time. It was close to midnight and it was a strange sight to see Colaba empty.

Keep in mind, till now, none of us either heard or saw any gunfire or blast. We reached home safely and the first thing we did was switch on the television to get the news! Almost as soon as we did so, we heard a powerful blast that shook all of us to our very bones, including the house. It came from Nariman House, just a few buildings away.

My friends from overseas were in shock. So were we. We spent the next 3 days glued to the television, up on the terrace (rather foolishly now that I think of it) looking at Taj burn and Nariman House make shooting noises. My wife got goosebumps when she saw the commandos being air dropped on the roof there. Not something any of us will ever forget.

I applaud the staff of Cafe Mondegar though! I'm sure someone there knew it was a terrorist attack but they made sure none of the patrons knew that before we were ready to leave. It could have been chaos if they did.

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