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'When I looked into Nariman House I saw a gunman. And he had an AK-47 in his hands'

January 8, 2009
Then it came again.

It seemed like the sound was coming from across the street. Sena worker Dinesh Bait came running in to say there had been firing in the building next to Malode House, where Surve has his family home.

Surve and his boys poured out of the little shed onto the road, near the Camy wafers shop, to have a look and heard the sound of a grenade.

Here is Surve's account of helping with the logistics of the National Security Guard's Operation Black Tornado that freed Nariman House and the horrifying hours before the NSG arrived on the scene, when he nearly came face to face with a terrorist:

Instead of falling back we ran up the lane opposite, till we were in front of Nariman House. We could see six or seven of our workers wounded lying there bleeding and Harish Gohil (a Colaba resident) had been shot.

When we saw all the blood it made us more angry. I asked the other workers to tell me where the bullets and grenades were coming from. They said from inside. Our anger began to build.

Hum logo ka josh aur bhi buland ho gaya (Our fervour increased further). We were not scared and after quickly putting the wounded into vehicles, and dispatching them to the hospital, we went into the gates of Nariman House.

The boys started picking up stones -- whatever we could find. We started chucking them into the building. I was there with several of my workers -- Rocky Pereira, Kamlesh Singh, Shripad Bhate and others. They were giving galees (bad words) -- as we went inside.

But when I looked into Nariman House I saw a gunman standing on the first floor stairwell. And he had a '47 (AK-47) in his hands.

By the grace of god he did not use it on us at that moment...

That's when I told everyone that we better get the hell out there. We pulled everyone out. I told them let's not be crazy. Stones won't work in this situation. They have ammunition. I didn't want to die. We had to save ourselves and then figure out how to kill them.

Hardly had we withdrawn ourselves from the building and emerged from the lane when one of the terrorists -- probably to disperse us and finish us off --- threw a grenade that exploded in the basement of Nariman House. That's when we escaped death narrowly once more.

Fortunately I told everyone to get out of Nariman House when we did. And that was my kismet. Had I stayed standing there then all of us would have died right there as we shouted galees. I would not be here to tell you this tale. My picture would have been hanging here instead.

When I heard the grenade I realised that this was an attack. And that we had to be alert and we had to face them. But we did not realise it was such a big attack. Initially I just felt one man was shooting our people and we had to find some way to stop him and finish him off. And we had only stones in our hands. But after I saw the AK-47 I realised he was a terrorist and I began to wonder what other weapons they might have.

After the grenade exploded even more people gathered; there must have been 200 or 250. I instructed everyone to pull back to the main road and stay away.

We realised we had just one option. We had to take safe positions but surround the building -- there were about 200 to 400 people -- to be alert that the terrorists did not escape. We continued to make a lot of noise -- we shouted 'Maro, maro (Attack, attack)' -- so the terrorist/s would know that there were still a lot of people outside and they could not escape. That was perhaps why the terrorists after an hour chose at that point to retaliate by throwing a much larger zabardast (powerful) bomb at 12 midnight (that cause extensive damage at the Express petrol pump).

About five or six people were injured by that explosion. Although we had cordoned off the area and told people not to walk through, there were some who foolishly still came through on the footpath. One person I know, for sure, died then. I picked him up myself and put him on a stretcher and sent him off. He had no face left. He was dead.

The terrorists could probably see what was happening around them from the terrace of Nariman House. The building is quite a high one. They tried in many ways to scare off the public. But we decided to stay put right there. We could not let them escape. At the time we did not how many of them there were. Later we could tell that there must have been three or four.

This went on for two-and-a half hours to three hours. And during all this time there was no sign of anyone -- no police, no military, no commandos. We got hoarse crying for help. We began to feel that maybe these terrorists would finish Colaba off. And we have the navy camp next door, but when we sent word there they said they had no orders to come and help. The Colaba police station was empty. No one was answering the phone. Nor at the police control room.

When the first reports started coming in we heard that the terrorists had come to kill off all the police -- so they (the police) went underground. Then I heard from my missus that they had taken a police van and were moving around and she told us to keep off the roads. So we instructed everyone to stay away from the road too.

That was was when we realised we had no ammunition. We needed some ammunition. We thought we should at least make some petrol bombs. So the boys started making some bombs. They started taking petrol out of the parked cars. We thought maybe we might have to surround the building and attack it. We started making these preparations. We had to save our lives at least.

But then another banda (fellow) advised us that if we did that we might force the terrorists to leave the building and there would be more deaths. So we cancelled that kaam (job). We decided the best option was to keep them inside.

Image: The letter from the National Security Guard commending Vijay Surve.

Also see: Nariman House: Diary of an Eyewitness
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