Vijay Singh (name changed due to security reasons), thirty-eight, standing just under five-feet-eight with dense black hair, well-oiled and slicked to the side much like a schoolboy. Despite having a thick moustache, it is the youthfulness of his eyes that dominates his face.
He could be mistaken for a professional in the corporate world, a young IT professional perhaps -- which is in fact what he intended before he became an inspector with the Maharashtra police.
The last few years of his posting with the Mumbai ATS, though, had hardly given him an occasion to wear his khaki threads -- as a key member of the technical section of the ATS.
Although he did not have a degree in computer technology, with his technical bent of mind and aided by the formal training provided by the ATS, Singh had become an expert in cyber and electronic intelligence gathering. Singh loved his job: intercepting phone calls, hacking into email addresses or social networking profiles of computer-savvy terrorists, collecting cyber intelligence on terror modules.
However, lately things had been tough for him and for that matter all of ATS, particularly its chief Hemant Karkare. But this evening, the evening of 26 November, was different. After a long gloomy period, the smile had returned on Singh's face.
Tonight he wanted to celebrate, in his own inimitable style, by feasting on pav bhaji and milkshake at one of his favourite food joints behind the Byculla railway station.
He had just ordered one more masala pav and some faluda when his boss, Hemant Karkare called on his cellphone (Karkare spoke directly to all inspectors, assistant inspectors and sub-inspectors posted at the ATS).
'You call eating pav bhaji and faluda partying? Keep Friday evening free and I will show you what a real party is,' said Karkare bursting into laughter.
It had been a while since Singh had heard his chief this relaxed and cheerful. Singh was delighted that he had done his bit in bringing the smile back on Karkare's face.
The same afternoon a Mumbai court had granted the ATS three more days of police custody for Dayanand Pandey, prime accused in the Malegaon terror attack, the case that had led to the arrest of almost a dozen Hindu radicals accused of carrying out a bomb blast in Malegaon in rural Maharashtra.
The evidence produced by the ATS left the court with little choice than to extend Pandey's police custody. The ATS had shown the judge a video clip wherein Pandey and his accomplices could be seen plotting the terror attack.
The video clip was shot by Pandey using the webcam of his laptop (Pandey had this queer habit of recording meetings and telephonic conversations held with co-conspirators and storing them on his laptop).
It was Singh and his colleagues in the technical section who, after two weeks of rummaging through the data on Pandey's laptop, had retrieved the video clip.
The audio and video evidence was now expected to demolish the disparaging campaign kick-started by the Hindu right-wing parties, accusing the Mumbai ATS of being anti-Hindu and victimising saffron activists without any evidence.
The discovery of the video had changed everything: incontrovertible and clinching, it was going to steal the thunder of its detractors.
A few minutes after Singh spoke to Karkare he got a phone call from his friend informing him about the firing at the Oberoi hotel. His pav bhaji half-eaten, Singh rushed towards the Oberoi.
As he parked his car on the road opposite the hotel he saw smoke billowing out of the upper lobby of the Oberoi; then a few foreigners, screaming and pleading for help, came running out of the hotel.
A few minutes later there was an ear-splitting explosion. Another blast followed -- lesser in decibel volume -- perhaps that of a grenade, but loud enough to send people scurrying for cover. Singh decided to call up Karkare but the latter disconnected the call.
A few minutes later Additional CP Parambir Singh of the ATS called Singh and asked him to rush to the ATS office and get cracking with other staff members at the technical room. The time was 10.50 pm.
In less than fifteen minutes Singh walked into the technical room of the ATS, equipped with modern gadgets, high-end computers and advanced technology for intercepting phone calls and electronic communication.
Assisted by three more inspectors and half-a-dozen police constables, all technically trained, Singh started coordinating with different cellphone service providers, scanning their international gateways for any suspicious calls, concentrating on the calls originating or ending in the localities surrounding the Taj hotel, the Oberoi hotel and Colaba.
But there were thousands and thousands of telephone calls passing through the international gateway and also the cellphone towers in the area around Colaba and Nariman Point.
The ATS staff sucked out a few conversations from the air -- whispery voices speaking Arabic or some other Middle Eastern language -- but soon they were found to be of tourists or businessmen, all above suspicion.
More calls were taken on 'listening' but they too turned out to be clean. Soon doubts started creeping into Singh's mind. Maybe the terrorists were not using telephones.
Maybe they were not communicating at all. But the technical staff of the ATS had to stay on the job. ATS chief Hemant Karkare and the second-most senior officer, Parambir Singh, were both out in the field, in the middle of operations.
A small TV set kept in a corner was telecasting the unfolding carnage live. Pictures of blood, bodies, burning hotel rooms, fire, smoke, injured people were being aired in rapid succession.