It was on the night of November 26, 2008, when the first shots by terrorists were fired and in another few hours, many of Mumbai’s brave and innocent had lost their lives. It was also the time when I noticed my mother’s face had turned ashen-pale with fear and shock. My mother isn’t the kinds who get scared easily, and certainly not because of bombs and bullets. It had to be something else.
She had been complaining of a severe headache since morning and I could sense something was terribly wrong with her. I immediately started reaching out to the doctors, but by then the whole of Mumbai city had come to a standstill. Nothing or no one was available for a reasonable discussion. Our family doctor on phone said that she needs an immediate CT scan or MRI.
She needed urgent medical attention, but Mumbai had shut down. Streets were empty, taxis unavailable, houses were locked, communication lines choked. I couldn’t find a place to get her scanned, until a kind doctor opened his center from the back door, examined her, and gave the dreadful news that she had a clot between brain and the skull and required an urgent neurosurgery.
While I discussed with him, my mother sat glued to the TV screen, as did rest of the city, occasionally muttering ‘this is wrong’. I felt so helpless for the first time in my life, where to take her, how to get her surgery done, how many hours she could handle — Mumbai was under attack and we had nowhere to go. Nearly 40 km from Taj Hotel, in Andheri Suburbs, for the first time, I understood how chaos could rule a city and the true meaning of ‘dread’.
I managed to take the first flight out of Mumbai and get her operated in Delhi the next day. I remember the first words she spoke after regaining consciousness. She feebly asked, “Is it over?” I assumed she was asking about the surgery and replied, ‘Yes Maa. It’s over, you were incredibly brave.” Then she said, “No, I am asking about Mumbai!”
But it didn’t get over till the 29th, till our city was burnt, egos crushed, our pride taken, grieving families scarred for life and Kasab became a household name. As we watched TV, saw clips of NSG commandos take charge, and neutralise the enemy, my mother commented, “These are brave people…heroes!”
The words remained embedded in my mind. It was a few years later I decided to do a series on the Heroes, our extraordinary men, and women in uniform. I covered Mumbai Police, Railway Police, and Fire Men amongst others. I have worked closely with security forces since last few years, observed and photographed them and I have learned why they are Heroes in every sense. Every person, be a policeman, a fireman, a doctor or a commando, or even an ordinary citizen who acts selflessly in the face of an extreme threat — is a Hero.
We might have been caught unaware once, but now it’s a different story. Now, we are more than just ready.
I have had the honour of photographing and spending some time with NSG, more popularly known as the Black Cat Commandos – and on the 10th anniversary of Mumbai Terror Attacks, I would like to share a few unseen photos of these great soldiers of the nation as a tribute to the martyrs.
Their highest level of patriotism, training, and commitment to the cause of ‘Nation First’ has left an indelible impression on our collective minds. The world may never get to see their faces but will forever hear their stories of bravery and courage in the darkest of hours.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of AFTERNOON VOICE and AFTERNOON VOICE does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)