5 stories from 26/11 attacks that showcase the indomitable spirit of Mumbai!

It’s been 14 years since the 26/11 attacks, but the scars and the memories are still fresh in the minds of Mumbaikars who lived through those horrible days, and survived!

policeman | 26/11 attacks | 26/11 | 26th November | Taj attack | Humans of Bombay

"It was a normal day of duty for me. My shift ended at around 9pm and I was on my way home. Right then, I got a call from the police station. They told me that my junior Morey had been killed by a hand grenade in Cama hospital by terrorists and I had to get on duty as his replacement. I didn’t have time to comprehend what had happened, but I couldn't afford to grieve at that point.

I needed to follow orders and keep people safe. The police station where I was posted, was barely a kilometre away from where the 26/11 attacks took place.There were rumours that the terrorists were entering the city and were all over. We had to keep things in control, knowing that at the same time our fellow officers were dying. It was a difficult time.

The next day, I was given a team under me, and I had to head the post-mortem for the dead bodies in the Trident Hotel. When I entered, I saw around 30 bodies... most of them were women and children. I realized how vile the terrorists were to have taken so many innocent lives.

For two days after the 26/11 attacks we were on duty non-stop. The city was on high alert, and we had to be there to protect it. I couldn’t even take Morey’s body back to his wife and children. On the third day, when things settled down and I took his body, his family was in shock. His house was filled with people that day, from distant relatives to even his local tailor. Everyone showed up to honour him. I was teary eyed. I finally had the chance to grieve. He was a brave man.

I even did his last rites, wishing nothing but justice for him, his family, and for us. Every uniformed official, along with victims and their families have mourned that day. We spend day and night keeping Mumbai out of harm’s way -- but that night it collapsed all around us. Yes, it has been 11 years to the 26/11 attacks. Yes, we have learnt our lesson...but the fact still remains that innocent lives were lost, in the name of terrorism. The wounds are still fresh, but so is our drive for justice.”

“My birthday falls on 26th November. That night, to celebrate, we decided to go to the Taj. My son had just turned–I was skeptical about leaving him behind, but when my husband and in-laws insisted, I agreed. Moreover, a family friend was staying at the Taj, so we planned to meet him for dinner. In retrospect, I wish I had listened to my gut and stayed home.

We entered the hotel around 9 and first went up to our friend’s room for drinks. Just as we were settling in, we heard what sounded like fireworks. Oblivious to what was happening, I said, ‘The whole city is celebrating my birthday!’ After 15 minutes, we heard the sound again, but this time it sounded like gunshots. We rushed to the window; what I saw shocked me… bodies were being rolled out.

We called the reception, but they were just as clueless as us. One of them said that it may be a gang war–they asked us to stay put. And so, we did. An hour later, there was a deafening sound that shook the entire building. I knew then that it was much more than a gang war and my mind kept going back to my son at home...I went numb.

What followed can only be described as chaos–I could hear loud screams, people being dragged and gunshots. We switched off the lights in the room and put our phones on silent. But even the silence was thunderous.

I remember, it was past midnight when I asked my husband, ‘What will happen to our son if we don’t make it?’ Just then, there was a 2nd blast–the dome was on fire and we were engulfed in smoke. The next few hours were spent wetting towels and putting them near the gap by the door.

We discussed breaking open the window and shouting for help, but the Taj windows were unbreakable. Night turned into morning, and we were still there…breathing smoke and losing hope. And then we heard it… the sound of the fire brigade–we immediately flickered the light to indicate we needed help. And thankfully, they saw us!

The fire brigade made its way to our window and broke open the glass. It took us an hour to climb down the rope and my God, it was the most excruciating hour. But thankfully, we all made it down in one piece.

The morning after the 26/11 attacks, when I went back home, I held my son in the tightest embrace. But the trauma of that night stayed with me for a year. I’d find it hard to even use the washroom by myself. And fireworks? Their sound still terrorises me. But the next year, on my birthday, on 26/11, I decided to face my fear–I went back to Taj to celebrate! And that day, it wasn’t just us celebrating, it was everyone celebrating OUR comeback–the staff, the guests, all of us.

And ever since that day, it’s been a ritual. Every 26/11, I first lsay a prayer for all those we lost and then in the evening, head to the Taj to celebrate those who fought and triumphed over their terror!”

26/11 attacks | 26/11 | 26th November | Taj attack | Taj hotel attack | Humans of Bombay

“I was waiting at CST that night to collect my money for the tea I had just delivered. When I heard the gunshots, I thought they were fireworks but then there were 2 or 3 explosions and I knew. I turned around and saw a long line of people waiting at the ticket counter, so I ran towards them shouting ‘bhago, bomb hein’— people left everything behind and ran towards the road.

When I entered the ticket office, the seniors there abused me for chasing them away, saying it was ‘just a short circuit’, but then another bomb exploded right outside where we were. Through the window I saw Kasab, and thought it was a commando with 2 AK47 guns in his hand. I frantically called out to him for help, but when he saw me he hurled such abuses that I can’t even repeat them…and then fired rounds of bullets inside the ticketing counter. The Railway Master was hit, I was injured because of the glass pieces and there were 7-8 other men injured.

After a few minutes, the firing was coming from some distance, so I got up and crawled outside to see countless bodies - some dead, some still having life in them. I called my wife at that point and told her that I might die because there could still be bombs at the station. She asked me to leave and go home, but I told her that I had to help my people.

I’ve checked almost every body at CST for a sign of life, put people who were still breathing on haath gaadis, slabs of steel drawers and into cabs to be taken to the hospital. I took the Railway Master and a few others to a hospital in Byculla myself, because there were rumours that hospitals in South Bombay like Cama were also under attack. I stayed at CST the whole night with one other police officer.

I never did what I did for any award or recognition, but I did receive 28 awards since then and a promise that I would get a job in the railway…a promise which is still not fulfilled 7 years after the 26/11 attacks. If it was the son of a minister or politician who had done the same thing, God knows how much they would have done for him, but at the end of it I’m a poor chaiwallah and I have no regrets...I would do it all over again.”

26/11 attacks | 26/11 | 26th November | Taj attack | Taj hotel attack | Humans of Bombay

“26th November 2008 began like any other day. I was a Banquet Manager at Taj, and because we were hosting a welcome party for the new chairman, we had to manage a lot of guests. 65 of us were gathered in the banquet hall – everything was going as planned when we suddenly heard some loud noises. My first thought was that someone might be bursting firecrackers. How wrong I was.

But pretty soon, all our phones started pinging with calls and text messages telling us that gunmen had entered Taj. We immediately moved into action – we locked all the doors and switched off the lights. The guests began to panic and kept asking us why we weren’t letting them go. We told them about the situation at hand, and that’s when chaos ensued. I tried to calm them down and keep them quiet so as to not attract the attention of the terrorists.

I did my best not to panic though. I had this gut feeling that things were going to be alright – I had faith in our armed forces. I knew they’d come for us. My mother, who wasn’t in Bombay at the time, called me to ask where I was. I lied to her and told her that I was safe at home. I didn't want her to panic and more than anything else I didn’t want to say goodbye.

When we finally escaped at five in the morning through the window the next day, a lot of us decided to stay close to Taj – we did it because we wanted to. We wanted to be there to pick up the pieces, to help in any way we could. The day after everything cleared, we were back at the hotel to clean up. It broke my heart to see it in shambles, but somehow we pushed down our emotions, and did what needed to be done.

The 26/11 attacks ended on the 29th – by then I was already home, watching it all on the news. I would cry every time I saw the images flash on the screen – but all of it just made me stronger. When I finally met my parents, the first thing my mother did was slap me….then she hugged me really tight. Not only them, but my family at Taj too, helped me get through everything. We built this place up brick by brick, and restored it to its former glory. Each hidden crack in the walls of Taj, reminds us that courage and peace can be found within you, even in the hardest of times.”

26/11 attacks | 26/11 | 26th November | Taj attack | Taj hotel attack | Humans of Bombay

“Two of my friends had come down from France -- they were making a movie in Hindi and wanted to get a taste of what the local life was like. I was new to Mumbai myself so when my local friends suggested Leopold Cafe, I was excited to check it out.

When we got there, we loved the ambience -- we had a couple rounds of drinks, so we were in great spirits! There was a man on the table adjacent to ours — he looked shifty, but I didn’t think much of it and just observed him through the night.

I still remember, it was 8:30 and I was just about to leave to meet my sister who was visiting, when that odd looking man got up and took something out of his bag. Suddenly there was smoke everywhere…and then these men began shooting. That’s when a bullet hit my ribs. My mind and body were both in shock. One minute I was having dinner, and the other I was profusely bleeding. I got up and ran for my life. Past the terrorists, past the bodies of people lying on the floor.

I rushed out and tried to stop a car, a cab, anyone that would take me to a hospital. I was bleeding out and losing energy. One cabbie stopped but when he saw my blood, he literally pushed me out. Luckily there was a hawker walking past who saw my state, helped me hail a cab and rushed me to the hospital.

That hospital was right behind CST. When I reached there, no one knew that Mumbai had just been attacked by terrorists. They refused to treat me and left me to bleed in the waiting room because they didn’t know how I’d been injured. I was afraid I would die, but then one doctor came to my rescue though and agreed to save my life without filling out the formalities.

By then, policemen were walking in with the bodies of their dead comrades. The CST attacks had commenced. I was being treated amidst a sea of dead people. It was traumatic. After some time I was shifted to another hospital. Luckily the bullet hadn’t ruptured my lung...my recovery was quick but tough. The emotional trauma was a whole other issue.

For nights I couldn’t sleep. Any loud noise would startle me. I feared going out, feared witnessing another attack. I couldn’t stop thinking about it; about the people who died...about how it was a twist of fate that my friends and I survived.

It was a long road to recovery from the 26/11 attacks. I remember I used to go to the cafe opposite Leopold and just observe it from afar. Recounting the events of that night again and again — but not having the courage to step into that place.

Not until after 3 years. 3 years of battling the post trauma, of understanding that I couldn’t have changed anything that happened. That we were all victims of a larger problem that night -- one that seeks it’s solace in taking the life of innocent people and if we continue to be fearful, they win -- that’s when I walked into Leopold again and left the fear behind.”

Being India’s biggest storytelling platform, Humans of Bombay is all about bringing you extraordinary stories of ordinary people. Today, we bring you these stories about the 26/11 attacks, to showcase the indomitable spirit of Mumbaikars and how we will #neverforget these dark moments. If you’d like to read more such stories, check out our book and dive into the diverse tales of a country with a billion beating hearts!

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