|Jyotish, Niranjana and Leeja
Thiruvananthapuram, Sept. 25: Two families from Kerala had a narrow escape from the militants who stormed the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, thanks to a watchful security guard.
Jyotish, a marketing manager with a private firm in Nairobi, wife Leeja and daughter Niranjana were shopping for a birthday gift for a neighbour’s child when terror struck at the mall. The neighbour’s wife, Deepa, was with them.
Jyotish and his family are from Attingal, on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram. Deepa is from Kannur in north Kerala.
Leeja’s father Muraleedharan Unnithan said his daughter’s family — they live just 300 metres from the mall — had just entered the shopping complex on Saturday when the security guard began yelling “fire, fire”.
Initially, everyone thought a blaze had broken out, Unnithan recounted. But when the sound of gunfire erupted, there was commotion.
The guard told Leeja’s family and Deepa that gunmen were firing at random inside the mall and led them to a dark store-room adjoining the entrance. There were 56 others there. The guard asked them to lie on the floor and keep silent. He then locked the room and went away.
Unnithan said Jyotish was a regular at the mall and was familiar with the security personnel. That was what probably helped save him and his family.
The families lay on the floor, their hearts racing as grenades burst and machine guns roared outside. Jyotish held Niranjana close to his chest and prayed.
After what seemed like hours, the guard returned, opened the room and led them out through a dark alley. Two other families from north Kerala were rescued with them.
Unnithan said: “We managed to contact them only yesterday, which was when Jyotish recounted the incidents.”