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‘Rut-tut-tut’ at baby Moshe’s home

Hail of bullets, mortar shells and flying grenades — those are the first images that come to my mind when I think of 26 November, 2008.

I also remember dodging some of those bullets for a story.

26/11 wasn’t my first brush with terror attacks. I had covered two of them — the Mumbai serial blasts and the Malegaon blasts in the first year of my job in 2006 when I joined The Telegraph. However, nothing could have prepared me for that day in November.

I realised as I landed in Mumbai that this was something I had never seen before. I had arrived to cover history as it unfolded. Blood was spilling on the streets, bodies were falling like matchsticks and there was the smell of fear in the city that I had never experienced before.

I was stationed at Nariman House in Colaba in southern Mumbai on 28th November, 2008, two days after the terrorists took over the city. The building was home to Chabad House, a Jewish outreach centre run by Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, which was under siege by terrorists who had five hostages with them, including the couple’s son Moshe and his nanny, Sandra Samuel.

Situated in a congested residential locality of upmarket Colaba, the building and the surrounding areas were taken over by gun-toting commandos who were exchanging indiscriminate gunfire with the terrorists inside. People like me who carried the brief of filing “every detail of the action” had no way of getting close to the building without being either shooed away by the commandos or the risk of taking a stray bullet.

Unlike the “boom boom” sound that identifies gunfights on reel, all I had for information regarding the shootout till late afternoon was just the sound of real gunfire — “rut-tut-tut”.

Not much of a copy, I thought.

As I moved trying to get a better view of the action, I noticed a gap between two buildings, about 20-25 metres away from Nariman House, which if I crossed could lead me to an apartment block, a window from which I could have a clear view of the NSG operation. Only, the gap was exposed to gunfire from the terrorists and they shot at everything that moved.

As I ran towards Mazda Mansion, the building which was parallel to Nariman House and would give me a clear view of the action, I could hear gunfire behind me. I climbed the terrace of the house from where I could see commandos climbing the terrace of Chabad House. Agile and dexterous, they didn’t miss a step as they climbed the walls with the help of ropes as their other mates from the ground fired away at the windows of the house shattering them.

Each time a grenade was lobbed by the terrorists, the terrace I was on shook. We retreated as bullets sprayed the ground beneath our feet. I remember crouching low with two others as bullets were sprayed all across the terrace.

I remember seeing figures moving around inside the house, I hoped the terrorists were moving the hostages around, I hoped they were alive.

I remember as clear as day as the NSG went clinically about their job of taking control over the Jewish Centre — I remember when they gave the all-clear sign marking the conclusion of an almost 48-hour siege. I remember peering down at Chabad House — bruised and battered, just like its now dead occupants; it lay there, finally silenced in a halo of smoke.

I also remember thinking that none of the hostages could possibly make it through this one. I was wrong, though. Baby Moshe did survive and so did Chabad House, which reopened last year.