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Mumbai: the terror

'That day, the 26th of November, will be etched in my memory. Like any other Mumbaikar, I was not prepared for the enormity of the events that unfolded over a long and gruelling 59 hours.

I was at home watching the television when the news came. At first everybody assumed it was part of the local gang war, but I called a friend in South Mumbai and he told me that he was caught in the crossfire between the police and the terrorists.

I took my motorbike and headed first for Victoria Terminus. It was chaos, there was firing all around. Everybody was a suspect. At one point armed police frisked me and I had to speak in my local language before they eased off. A few minutes later I was standing outside the Metro cinema with a few reporters when a hijacked police van careered down the road, the terrorists inside spraying bullets towards us. A policeman was shot and killed a few feet away from me, and one of the journalists was injured. We were in shock, we didn't know what to do but thank God in heart for keeping us alive.

I didn't sleep at all that night or the next one. I stayed on the streets, shuttling between the Taj and the Oberoi and Nariman House. I exhausted two mobile phone batteries trying to get information every minute from friends, other photographers and my wife who was keeping tabs of the live TV reports. I shared some little thing to eat with a sniper on the top floor of the building opposite Nariman House. On the second day the streets were deserted. I felt a kind of eeriness that was so unlike the city I have lived in all of my life. In our historical baggage we have riots and bomb-blasts, but this event was different. I felt nothing less than a war on Mumbai.'

Atul Loke, December 2008.
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