Monday, November 26, 2018

The night that shook Mumbai, India

This day, ten years ago, around 11 pm, I was in the office giving final touches to the India pages of The Times of India, the newspaper I worked for then. Our attention was drawn to a news item on one of the TV channels.

It was about a suspected terrorist attack in Mumbai. The report said several armed people were on a shooting spree in the megapolis. Many were feared dead. There was not much clarity except that it seemed to be a very major terror strike.

As every minute passed, the enormity of the situation began to unfold. Unconfirmed death toll was mounting, as we followed the live footage streaming on multiple TV news channels. We waited for confirmation from police or the State government on what exactly was happening.


One of the scenes of the carnage was the CST Railway Station, which is very close to the The Times House, where our Mumbai office is. We got to know from our colleagues there that one of the terrorists had climbed over the foot overbridge beside the office to reach the railway station across the road.

Shriram Vernekar, our photographer, managed to click a photo from the window of our Mumbai office of one of the attackers going up the staircase. We got that photo (besides many others) in our office in Bengaluru, but only much later we knew that it was that of the lone terrorist who was captured alive, Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani citizen belonging to the Lashkar e Taiba terror outfit.

Sebastian D'Souza, the photographer of our sister publication Mumbai Mirror, was at the railway station, and he too got the photo of the backpack-carrying, gun-toting Kasab walking in to the station.


Later, we got to know that it was the bravery of Assistant sub-inspector Tukaram Omble, who had only a cane with him at that time, which resulted in the capture of Kasab. Omble, who followed the vehicle that the terrorist had hijacked, was fired at five times. He later confronted Kasab, managed to pin him down, and hold on to the attacker's weapon, helping Omble's colleagues to capture Kasab alive. Omble succumbed to the bullet wounds.

Kasab was executed on November 21, 2012, after the case went through a nearly four-year-long, due judicial process, with the terrorist being given the chance to defend himself. Since no lawyer was ready to defend him, the government provided him an amicus curiae.

The images clicked by our photographers, turned out to be critical in the case. Incidentally, Sebastian D'Souza won the World Press Photo award for the photograph.

Then came another shocking bit of news: three of the top police officers of the city had fallen to the terrorists bullets -- Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner of Police (East) Ashok Kamte and police inspector and well-known anti-terror specialist Vijay Salaskar. We all wondered if any city in the world had faced such a situation where three of its top cops had been killed.

Then news trickled in that terrorists had entered the iconic Taj Hotel and that people had been held hostage there. The operations in Taj turned out to be the hardest and the longest: it lasted over three days.


While we all in the office were quite shaken by the unfolding events, at the professional level we were wondering how to get news on to the paper, considering that there was hardly any confirmed information coming by with the whole city under a siege at midnight. There was not much news coming in on this on the wires of the Press Trust of India, India's premier news agency. Nor our correspondents were getting any details how it all started or the extent of the carnage. The pages had to be transmitted to the press by at least 1.30 am.

Whatever we had got was just enough to be carried on the front page as the lead story. There weren't any details to be carried in an inside page. But we were getting many photographs. So, we cleared one page of the news items, and carried photos (the ones that were not graphic and could be carried) with a brief write-up of the terror that had hit the city.

The pages went to the press one-and-half hours late. Obviously, all newspapers faced the same challenge with such an important news breaking close to the deadline.


We all went to bed not knowing what lay in store for Mumbai and the country: scores had died, hundreds injured, three top police officers too dead. And, no indication that the attack had ceased.

It officially ended only on November 29 -- must be the longest terrorist strike anywhere in the world -- resulting in death of 165 people and injuries to over 300. Nine of the 10 attackers were also killed.

At the end of it all, many questions were asked: Wasn't there any intelligence input? If it was there, didn't anyone act on them? Why was the coast not being monitored? How could so many armed men wreak havoc so brazenly? How could arms be stored in such a luxurious hotel, and go undetected? Did the television media get carried away, providing live footage of the operations, thereby possibly helping the terror network?


Terror attacks in Mumbai; six foreigners among 101 dead -- The Times of India

At Least 100 Dead in India Terror Attacks - The New York Times

Eyewitness Of Mumbai Attack - CBS TV news clip

Mumbai Rocked by Deadliest Terrorists Attacks - Headlines Today TV news clip

Mumbai’s Longest Night, With an Abyss of Terror -- The New York Times

Tracking the Mumbai Attacks - The New York Times

As it happened: Mumbai attacks 27 Nov - BBC

Mumbai Terrorist Siege Over, India Says -- The New York Times

35 photos of the Mumbai attack - Boston Globe
(Some of the photos have graphic details, discretion advised)

2008 Mumbai attacks -- Wikipedia

TOI photographer's iconic picture nailed Ajmal Kasab -- The Times of India


  1. Hi Pradeep - I do remember that day ... and watching some of the dreadful tv news that was coming out describing the horrifying events. It was just so desperate - and still is - but thank you for your report on the day ... with thoughts - Hilary

  2. Eeek. So sad. So much anger in the world. So terrible.

  3. Podcasting has come out well. Your voice is able to convey emotions that text may not have done effectively.

    I don't remember much of what the press and TV had to say then.. This article is a good recap summary.

    Destination Infinity

  4. Reading about any incident does not convey the full horror of the situation.Your account has brought the attack live in front of my eyes.I wonder how you folks went home and slept that night-or should I say that morning?

    1. Thanks Indu, for the comments. Indeed such terrifying times they were.

  5. Thanks for this wonderful post reminding us of this terrible day. We should never forget it. I remember that day very well. We were staying in a hotel in Guruvayoor and glued to the TV.

    1. Thanks, Rajan. Like many other momentous days, every Indian recalls where they were when the news broke.