Saturday, November 29, 2008

When a building gave Mumbai residents virtual war experience

This is my first hand account at Nariman house during terrorists attack

Nariman House, the nondescriptwhite colour five-storeyed building was never in news before, but after it was hit by terrorists on Wednesday, it hoggedglobal limelight.

Late afternoon yesterday, heavy gunfire started fromall sides, targeting the Nariman House. With the help oflocal residents, I with a journalist friend managed to climban under-construction building in Koliwada which gave a fullview of Nariman House, except the ground floor. This buildingwas barely 100 metres away from Nariman House.

There was some movement observed as commandos weremoving up and down from staircase and several gunshots were heard. Commandos were even firing from opposite buildingstowards southern end of the Nariman House.

"Nariman House was a residence and prayer place forJews. In its place, earlier there used to be a Parsi bungalowin the crowded locality of Colaba market. After demolishingthe bungalow, the building was constructed," Murlidhar Rajake,a local said. But the rates of the flats were too high thatordinary people couldn't purchase it, he added.

A Jew trust then bought the entire building surroundedby small two-three floor houses and chawls of fishermen. "One family was staying there but we didn't know muchabout them," Rajake said. But on the day of the attack, 100 kgmeat was ordered from the market shop, he added.

One interesting bit which some locals shared was thatthese terrorists had stayed in the building with the Jewishfamily as guests and that's why they knew the entire buildingvery well and managed to ward off security forces for so long.

When terrorists entered the building on Wednesdaynight, local people heard some sound of blasts and firing.They had no idea of any terrorist attack, as the area isalways a peaceful. Some youths rushed to the building to check if therewas some accident. One boy even managed to reach the firstfloor of Nariman House but a grenade was thrown in hisdirection. He escaped with leg injuries.

"Stones were sprinkled due to the blast that injuredtwo-three others who had rushed to the building," he said.

However, even by then, no one realised that it was aterror attack and they threw stones towards the building fromoutside. Again the firing was heard from inside and then theyunderstood this is not normal.

Harish Gohil who was staying in the nearby apartmentwas killed in the firing as he peeped out of the window afterhearing explosions and a bullet hit him. "He died on thespot," Mahesh Jadhav, another resident said.

Then the news started spreading that terrorists havecaptured the building and a family was trapped there.

At around five pm, a rocket launcher was fired towardsNariman House. It hit the western side of the building wallwith a deafening sound. We were all shaken with the sound andthe blast. The third floor was damaged and some part of thewall collapsed creating a huge crater. That later proved to bethe final hit to the terrorists.

People in the area were scared with the huge explosionand said this is the first time in past two days they haveheard this. There was a fear on everyone's face and also aneerie silence.

We were continuously looking at the building withoutblinking eyes so that we could capture all the happenings. Itwas assumed to be the final stage of the operation going bythe sudden spurt in `action'.

The collapsed part of the building was near thestaircase and we could see inside movement of commandos onthe third floor very clearly. They were running towards lowerfloors holding guns. Other commandos standing on the terraceand in opposite buildings providing cover fire to insiders.

Heavy indiscriminate fire and explosions took place as the Sun started setting down. Commandos didn't want theterrorists to take advantage of the night, so the movement wasspeeded up.

The electricity supply was already discontinued so thepart of the building was focused by lights from outside.

By this time, several TV news channels startedflashing 'breaking news' that the operation at Nariman Housewas over and two terrorists were killed. There was a suddencheer in the atmosphere as the news spread in the area.

People clapped and shouted slogans 'Bharat Mata kiJay', 'Vande Mataram'. But a short while later, firing wasagain heard. There was confusion if the operation was reallyover.

Then I got down from the building and moved to themain road. While passing through narrow lanes I could reachjust 50 feets away to the Nariman House. The south part of thebuilding was mainly damaged. Windows were broken and grills were smashed in the firing.
But RAF personnel shooed us away from the buildingsaying we were in the line of fire.

When we came to the main road, a huge crowd of peopleand media had gathered to cheer commandos. They were waitingfor official confirmation of the success of the operation. Wewere pushed and pulled in the crowd and it was getting out of control.

To avoid the crowd again we started passing throughnarrow dark lanes and reached to the building where 15-20commondos in the uniforms were resting after the operation.Their caps were removed and guns were on ground. They were surrounded by police and police vans. Someof them were sitting on the road and drinking water withrelaxed faces. Locals were helping them to serve water and whatever they needed.

Some Israeli officials were also standing there. Butbefore we could communicate with them we were againforced out of the area by police.

Senior BJP leader Gopinath Mude came and appealedpeople to maintain calm. He said police didn't confirm thatthe operation is over. But the crowd was unmanageable andpolice used cane charge to disperse it.

Around nine pm, it was declared that the operation wasover and two terrorists and five hostages were killed. After the news, Army and NSG commandos started leavingthe place in trucks and buses. People were so excited andgrateful to them that they were welcomed with loud clappingand patriotic slogans. They even congratulated commandos by shaking handswith them. The crowd was standing everywhere in the building,balconies and atop adjoining shops, saluting the commandos.

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