While the recent terror attacks in our city continue to send ripples of fear through all of us, I am so moved by the stories that have emerged of courage displayed by ordinary people. These were ordinary men and women, untrained and unprepared for the attacks. And yet they displayed exceptional presence of mind and great courage. While the brutality of the terrorists makes us wonder what our world is coming to, these stories give us hope that goodness continues to rage its quiet battle against evil.
Here are some of the stories of the ‘tiny ripples of hope’ Mumbai experienced last week:
A Railway Announcer and his colleague -Vishnu Dattaram Zende & Girija Shankar Tiwari : As terrorists entered the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) on Wednesday night, spraying bullets wantonly, Zende had to make a split-second decision — stay silent and take cover, or use the only weapon he had to take on terror. He grabbed the microphone before him to calmly direct security forces and guide passengers towards the nearest exit.
Tiwari punches out on a transmitter the train timings and destinations that then appear on electronic boards on appropriate platforms, the moment Zende announces departures. Together, these two men helped at least a hundred passengers escape by warning them of the approaching terrorists and assisted security forces by giving them a running commentary on the location of the gunmen.
A train had just entered platform four when Zende and Tiwari first heard the firing and caught a glimpse of what was happening through the glass visor of their cabin. Within a minute, Tiwari said, they saw two youths brandishing guns approach from the main station — for trains leaving and entering Mumbai — and head towards the platforms that cater to suburban trains.
His voice level, Zende first began directing the security forces who were scattered all over the station to move towards the main station. Ducking and scrambling on his knees, Tiwari switched off the lights in the cabin and disconnected the transformers. A bullet in the glass visor reveals that the terrorists did try to neutralise their now invisible enemy, but missed. “It was crucial to switch off the transformers because they could have caught fire and caused an explosion,” Tiwari said.
Zende then switched to warning the passengers to leave the station through Platform Number One – farthest from the terrorists and the direction from which they were approaching, and Gate Number which leads out of the station from that platform.
Next, Zende and Tiwari warned other stations to stall trains and not allow them to approach CST. The terrorists at CST eventually left the station around 11pm.
“They could easily have taken cover like any other civilian and no one would have grudged them. Their job, after all, is to announce trains, not manage a terror situation. But they did it, and they saved well over a hundred people,” said Vijay Nair, the Additional Divisional Secretary of the National Railway Men’s Union.
“I am an ordinary man. I really don’t know what happened but, at that moment, I just knew this was what I had to do,” Zende said, smiling sheepishly.
A Railway Ticket Collector – R H Dubey: He was at the ticket checking office on Platform One on the Harbour Line section of CST when the terrorists opened fire. The CCTV footage shows how Dubey helped commuters move out of the station. In the footage, Dubey is seen helping an old woman pick up her luggage, and escorting her to safety. “My duty was to end in two hours time when I heard loud bursts and cries from the adjacent outstation train terminus. I knew something was wrong. There was very little time and I had to move fast,” he says. “I could not think. I only knew I had to help the passengers to safety. It was all by instinct,” Dubey recalls.
His instinct saved many lives that fateful night. “As the terrorists ran towards the subway entrance, some commuters felt it would be safer to hide inside the train. But Dubey asked them to move out of the station and escorted them through the rear exit. Dubey had his back towards the terrorists even as he was helping passengers get out of the station. “Dubey actually stood between the terrorists and the passengers as a shield without caring for his life,” a senior official who has witnessed the footage, points out.
A Nanny – Sandra Samuel: In the midst of the horrors of Mumbai, there was one amazing escape. Surrounded by police, gunmen controlled a Jewish community center, when suddenly, hours after the attacks started, a woman appeared outside with a baby in her arms. “When I heard him calling me, I just ran, picked him up and ran out. That’s it,” Sandra Samuel said.
Samuel has looked after 2-year-old Moshe Holtzberg since he was born. On the night of the attack, Samuel was in the kitchen. “First thing was a bomb, they put a bomb – it’s like a boy shooting at me. I see the (boy) shooting at me and the fire coming at me and I go like this,” Samuel said as she reenacted the scene of her dodging gunfire. As the gunmen stormed in, “I hid in the storeroom,” Samuel said.
All that night she listened as the terrorists rampaged through the house. Samuel said the men just kept shooting the lights. The next morning, more than 12 hours later, Samuel heard something else. “He was crying my name,” Samuel said of the baby. “At a quarter to 11, the baby was on the second floor, near his mother, standing and crying.” Knowing the terrorists were in the building, but not knowing where, she opened the door, ran up the stairs and grabbed Moshe. On the floor, she saw Moshe’s mother, Rivka, and his father, Rabbi Gaby Holtzberg, shot dead. She took the baby and fled the house. Her big regret is that she couldn’t save the Rabbi and his wife! Samuel says she will be with Moshe as long as he needs her. She wants to be with him until he “grows big.” “By God’s grace I hope I am there to see it,” Samuel said. “That’s it. All my blessings to my Moshe baby.”
There are other stories of :
A Nurse– Unnamed: Mothers with newborn babies at the Cama Hospital say that on that night of terror a nurse ran in and told them that there was some shooting outside. She shut the door, drew the curtains and switched off the lights. In order to keep the babies from crying, she advised the mothers to breast-feed them.
Hotel Staff – Unnamed: The staff of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel saved hundreds of wealthy guests. There were some whose bravery and sense of duty led them to sacrifice their own lives, witnesses said. A hotel worker put himself between one of the gunmen and a guest, his wife and two daughters.“The man in front of my wife shielded us,” he said. “He was a maintenance section staff member. He took the bullets.” It is not known if he lived.
Faced with conditions that India’s toughest soldiers said had tested them to the limit, the staff of the Taj Mahal remained astonishingly composed, witnesses said. With the gunmen only metres away, a waiter at the Golden Dragon, the hotel’s Chinese restaurant, barricaded the doors. The staff then led the diners to the hotel’s business centre, which became a makeshift bunker for hundreds of guests. A guest who sheltered there, said: “They handed out blankets, drinks. Despite the chaos all around they didn’t stop working for a second. They were amazingly calm.”
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. ~ Ambrose Redmoon