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'We went into the building crawling like commandos'

January 8, 2009
We took positions behind all the buildings that surrounded Nariman House. And we continued shouting and kept the noise level high. They never made any sounds. They just would fire a round every half hour. They had electricity. Even the street lights were on.

We had the BEST (the Mumbai utility company) turn off the lights when the police came some time after 12. ACP (Assistant Commissioner of Police) Issak Bagwan came first, at about 11.30 or 12. He stays nearby in the Kailash Parbat gully (in the same lane as Kailash Parbat, a popular Colaba eatery a few streets away). He stayed with us and we showed him the whole area and he gave us some guidance.

Then one police van came in which there were two constables, who each had an AK-47. But they were not getting out of the vehicle. We kept telling them to get out of the car and come in front and fire so the terrorists would know they are there. But they said they had no orders.

I said, 'Fine. Give me the gun. I will fire and when the orders come later I will go to jail'. But they were not willing to even give us the guns. Bagwan made us understand. He said 'Don't do that. Their job is on the line. If you take the guns from them their jobs will go.'

Till then we were feeling at a loss because we had no weapons. If we had weapons we could have gone ahead and taken on the attackers. Probably we might have died doing it, but we would have at least killed them first. But we had no ammunition. If we even had a small revolver I would have gone and fired at them.

So we got these two policeman to stand in two different places, like putlas (statues). At least they were there to show the terrorists. It became a joke: Our men were right in the front and the constables were behind. The problem is they did not have practice to even use those guns. If I had a gun I would have shot. You know there comes a moment when the moment itself teaches you how to cope.

Even after the police came we did not sit quiet. We got all the buildings around Nariman House evacuated. We evacuated them all -- Malode House, Mehta building, Kasturi, Ibrahim, Abdul Bhai Kareemji building. I called all the residents to the shakha and said they could stay there. We went across to the masjid (Darul Uloom Hanfia Razvia, located at the corner of Nariman House) and helped them. We evacuated the people there and their students. They said if we had not there might have been some serious casualties.

Then we went across to the Colaba Court compound at 12.30 pm (a compound containing five residential buildings just behind Nariman House). But at the gate there was some retired military/navywallah sitting in a chair. I told the gentleman, 'Bhauji, there is firing going on. Don't sit here. Go inside'. He said, 'Don't tell me what to do. I have retired from the military, I know what to do'. And they were all sitting there?!

So I said: 'May I request you with folded hands to please go into your homes. There can be some firing here and grenades can come this way.' Finally they listened and went back into their homes.

We had hardly reached the petrol pump on my rebound when they threw another grenade and fired into the Colaba Court and that couple died (Salim Harawala and Maria Harawala of Faridoon Court were killed in the crossfire. Their son Mohammed narrowly escaped). Later I got a letter from the society people that because of us their lives were saved. They said: 'If we had not listened right then, you would have died and so would we.' I escaped death yet again.

I actually did not know that that couple had died till much later. It must have been 1.30 or 2 at night when I got a call that a Saifee ambulance had come into the locality -- two Maruti vans. The ambulance had come with men with long beards and the local boys/public could not figure out who they were.

I told the crowd to move away and that no one should touch the car. They (the people in the ambulance) were standing there with folded hands and telling us that there had been a death in the family and they were the relatives and had come to take their bodies.

There was a crowd of 200 people surrounding the vans. The people in the vans started shivering. They said we have come for some other reason and the public is after us. If we had not been there they might have taken out their gussa (anger) on these poor people because the crowd was in that kind of mood. They explained that they had come to collect the bodies of two people who had died in the firing.

'Arre baap re baap,' I made everyone get away. I told them to wait there and not be scared. I asked Bagwan if he could help. He said he had no policemen.

So we said never mind we will go ourselves. So I took my workers -- there were 2 or 4 of us including this brave lad named Hanif -- we crept around the compound wall and went into the building crawling like commandos and send these two people up in the lift to get the bodies and then they left. It must have been 2.30. But who was looking at the time then!

We still had no instructions at all from the police. They had not even fired a bullet till then. It was the public who went on shouting and threatening the terrorists. All night.

And all through that time it seemed like the terrorists were looking at some way to get out. After 3 or 4 am a Rapid Action Force squad came. Then they posted many more policemen in groups of twos and fours and then the road was closed. But they also had no orders to fire.

Image: Vijay Surve, left, back to the camera with some of the 200 NSG commandos and policemen who took over the streets of Colaba those horrific days in November. Photograph, courtesy Vijay Surve.

Also see: 'They were a lovely couple'
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