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'The terrorists were so close': Reminiscences from 'that bloody Wednesday'

By Deepa Krishnan
November 25, 2009 14:27 IST
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A year after the 26/11 carnage, girls at the YWCA hostel in Colaba are still hounded by the horrifying memories of three sleepless nights when terror unfolded barely a few meters away in their backyard at Leopold Cafe and the iconic Taj.

On that fateful Wednesday night, as rumours of a gang war began trickling in, girls were glued to the television, like any other day, unaware that they will be witnessing one of the most audacious terror attacks a stone's throw away, over the next 70 hours.

Minutes later, the staccato of gunshots at Leopolds, cacophony of screeching police vans blowing sirens coupled with half-baked stories of firing at the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Taj hotel and elsewhere began filling the hostel rooms. Peals of laughter and lighthearted banter echoing through the dining hall gave way to dread and fear. As the scale of assault became clearer, panic-stricken calls from worried parents and well-wishers began pouring in. Working inmates were summoned from their offices and late night movie watchers, party hoppers and diners rushed back to the hostel fearing for their lives.

'Dipshikha' (name changed), a hostel resident, who had gone on an outing at the Leopolds with her friends, ducked under a table on the ground floor when gun-toting terrorists entered and began spraying bullets. Terrified, she escaped from the rear door of the restaurant and managed to survive the attack.

"I ran for my life bare-footed leaving my bag containing cash, cell phone and valuables behind and came out unscathed. I never thought I would live to see this day," Dipshikha said.

Frenzied activity outside the Mumbai police headquarters, parallel to the hostel lane across the road at the Regal Square, sent chill down the spine of 70-odd girls. Recounting the events, another hostel girl and roommate, Minna Joseph, who had gone to enjoy an evening movie show at nearby Regal cinema with a friend, still gets goose bumps.

"Unaware of what was in store at the Leopold I and my friend started strolling towards the Cafe for a light dinner but then decided against it. We walked across to sip fruit juice at a snack corner opposite the Cafe and then the terrorists rained death at the Leo's," Minna said.

At the hostel, alarmed by the grave situation, guarded exit gates were instantly locked -- well before the allowed 'in time' and visitors and strangers were barred from entering the building.

The following Thursday an eerie silence enveloped the hostel premises as the adjacent Regal Square wore a deserted look devoid of the usual traffic.

"We could hear loud bang of grenades exploding as if the terrorists had stormed our adjoining building. All this kept us awake through the first night and once we realised the enormity of the siege, there was no question of sleep," Samantha George, a resident said.

While some inmates frenziedly tapped on their cell phones trying to contact their near and dear ones fighting the jammed mobile network, others flocked to the hostel terrace to get a glimpse of the fire and billowing smoke that engulfed the Taj dome.

"It was scary to see the blaze growing every minute. We were truly terror-struck, the terrorists were so close. What if they seize our hostel and take us hostage, we thought," Sasmita Baral, another resident said.

Literally 'caged' in the hostel for three days following the 'bloody Wednesday,' the girls presented a picture of unity, sharing same concerns and snacks, as all were warned against stepping outside. "We are working women who rarely get a chance to meet each other due to our hectic schedules, but we were all holed up under the same roof those dark hours together and we collectively fought our demons," she added.

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Deepa Krishnan in Mumbai
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