The long November twilight faded into night. Mumbai lay enveloped in darkness but for the flames from one of the storey of Hotel Taj that shone through the clouds. Around the beleaguered Hotel Taj and Trident – Oberoi, the heavy guns roared. Here and there through the city, machine guns and rifles broke the silence of the night, spasmodically, like the dogs barking on lone farms. The city was under siege. Terrorists and Indian Troops were fighting a fierce gun battle.
All over the country people were watching the live action in their T.V. rooms. One of the honchos was addressing the nation asking people not to panic. ‘Bade Bade Shaheron main aesi chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rehti hain’. ‘Spirit of Mumbai’, ‘Long live Mumbai’, ‘Can’t kill Mumbaikars Spirit’ were the few words that were repeated almost 21 times in 15 minutes speech. Bollywood biggies made VVIP presence on all news channels. Same words to repeat. Politicians were sincerely doing their jobs – playing the blame games.
On a rooftop near ‘Gateway of India’, a National Security Guard sniper lay watching. His hand holding his rifle briskly with finger on the trigger. Over his shoulders was his backpack. His face was the face of a student, thin and ascetic, but his eyes had a cold gleam of the fanatic. They were deep and thoughtful, the eyes of a man who is used to looking at death.
He was eating the sandwich hungrily. He had eaten nothing since morning. He finished the sandwich, and, taking a flask of whisky from his pocket, he took a short drought. Then he returned the flask to his pocket. He paused for a moment, considering whether he should risk a smoke. It was dangerous. The flash might be seen in the darkness, and there were enemies watching from the windows of Taj. He decided to take the risk.
Placing the cigarette between his lips, he struck a match, inhaled the smoke and hurriedly put out the light. Almost immediately, a bullet flattened itself against the parapet of roof. Terrorists are not untrained dogs. The sniper took another whiff and put out the cigarette. Then he swore softly and crawled away to the left.
Cautiously he raised himself and peered over the parapet. There was a flash and a bullet whizzed over his head. He dropped immediately. He had seen the flash. It came from the top storey of the hotel.
He rolled over the roof to a chimney stack in the rear, and slowly drew himself up behind it, until his eyes were level with the top of the parapet. There was nothing to be seen—just the dim outline of the window frame under the flames arising. His enemy was under cover.
Just then a police van came across the bridge and advanced slowly up to the street. The van spat bullets at the crowd, mostly media persons, standing in front of the hotel. It was hijacked by terrorists. The sniper wanted to fire, but he knew it was useless. He was not able to look inside the filmed glasses.
The van stopped for a moment. Round the corner of a street came a man, his head covered by a tattered shawl. He opened the door of the van and tried to get inside it. He was pointing towards the roof where the sniper lay. An Informer. The Traitor.
A head and shoulders appeared from inside the van. The sniper raised his rifle and fired. The head fell heavily on the other window of the van. The man darted toward the side street. The sniper fired again. The man whirled round and fell with a shriek into the gutter.
Suddenly from the hotel window a shot rang out and sniper dropped his rifle with a curse. The rifle clattered to the roof. He stopped to pick up the rifle. He couldn’t lift it. His forearm was dead. “Madarchod,” he muttered.
Dropping flat onto the roof, he crawled back to the parapet. With his left hand he felt the injured right forearm. The blood was oozing through the sleeve of his coat. There was no pain—just a deadened sensation, as if the arm had been cut off.
Quickly he drew his knife from his pocket and ripped open the sleeve. There was a small hole where the bullet had entered. On the other side there was no hole. The bullet had lodged in the bone. It must have fractured it. He bent the arm below the wound. The arm bent back easily. He ground his teeth to overcome the pain.
Then taking out his field dressing, he ripped open the packet with his knife. He broke the neck of the iodine bottle and let the bitter fluid drip into the wound. A paroxysm of pain swept through him. He placed the cotton over the wound and wrapped the dressing over it. He tied the ends with his teeth.
Then he lay still against the parapet, and, closing his eyes, he made an effort of will to overcome the pain.
Over satellite phones… somewhere inside the Hotel.
“Janab Turkish or Indonesians bhi hai firango ke saath”
“Unko alag kardo or jaane do, hamari majhab ke jo bhi hain unko mat maarna, haan par yaad rakhna koi kaafir apne aap ko islami kah ke bach na jaaye, passport dekh lena. ”
“Ji janab, hamne passport dekh ke Amrika or Ingland ke logon ko bandhi bana liya hai… kya kare unka”
A series of gunshots followed by cry of men and women. Panic struck faces of the hostages. A scene very similar among cocks inside the cage in a butcher’s shop soon after one of them had been cut into pieces and sold to the customer; the others thanking god they are lucky to be alive this time, … but how long?
“Hamne aage baat kari hai, hindustaniyon ki tum logo ne faad di hai, Hindustani news channelo ne tumhe hero bana diya hai, teen bade police walon ko bhi maar diya hai tumne… tumhare ghar walon ko isi khusi main or paise dene ki baat kahi unse. Wo raazi hain.
“Shukriya Janab, aage ke liye kya hukm.”
“Maarte raho, Hindustani commandos ander jaane ki tayari main hain, toda sambhal ke… Hindustani sarkar se baat karne wale hain hum… hame pura bharosa hai wo hamari mango pe amal karegi. Jeet nischit hai”
“Aap befikr rahe janab, commandos kya unki maa bhi bahenchod yahan tak nahi pahunch payegi.”
“Sahi hai, Lashkar ke har sibbesalar se yahi ummeed hai. Jeeto aur apne lashkar ka naam roshan karo. Apne saathiyon ko ek baar phir se Lashkar-e-Taiba ka matlab samjhao. Unhe kaho ki hamari fauj ka matlab hai Shudh. Army of the Good – Righteous. The Army of Pure. Aur ek baat. Hindustani aapas me lad gaye hain. Kai hukumaran kah rahe hain ki ye sab hinduo ne karwaya hai. Hamare liye achcha hai. Saale kaafir, apas main hi lad ke mar jayenge.
“Bahot khub janab” ……..
In the street beneath all was still. The police van had retired hurriedly towards the bridge. Some other police vans ran after it, firing continuously. The informer’s corpse lay still in the gutter.
The sniper lay still for a long time nursing his wounded arm and planning escape. Morning must not find him wounded on the roof. The enemy on the opposite window covered his escape. He must kill that enemy and he could not use his rifle. He had only a revolver to do it. Then he thought of a plan.
Taking off his cap, he placed it over the muzzle of his rifle. Then he pushed the rifle slowly upward over the parapet, until the cap was visible from the opposite side of the street. Almost immediately there was a report, and a bullet pierced the center of the cap. The sniper slanted the rifle forward. The cap clipped down into the street. Then catching the rifle in the middle, the sniper dropped his left hand over the roof and let it hang, lifelessly. After a few moments he let the rifle drop to the street. Then he sank to the roof, dragging his hand with him.
Crawling quickly to his feet, he peered up at the corner of the roof. His plan had succeeded. The other sniper, seeing the cap and rifle fall, thought that he had killed his man. He was now standing over the window, looking across, with his head clearly silhouetted against the western sky.
The NSG sniper smiled and lifted his revolver above the edge of the parapet. The distance was about fifty meters —a hard shot in the dim light, and his right arm was paining him like a thousand devils. He took a steady aim. His hand trembled with eagerness. Pressing his lips together, he took a deep breath through his nostrils and fired. He was almost deafened with the report and his arm shook with the recoil.
Then when the smoke cleared, he peered across and uttered a cry of joy. His enemy had been hit. He was reeling over the window in his death agony. He struggled to keep his feet, but he was slowly falling forward as if in a dream. The rifle fell from his grasp, hit the window, fell over, bounced off the street light pole and then clattered on the pavement.
Then the dying man on the roof crumpled up and fell forward. The body turned over and over in space and hit the ground with a dull thud. Then it lay still.
The sniper looked at his enemy falling and he shuddered. The lust of battle died in him. He became bitten by remorse. The sweat stood out in beads on his forehead. Weakened by his wound and the long day of fasting and watching on the roof, he revolted from the sight of the shattered mass of his dead enemy. His teeth chattered, he began to gibber to himself, cursing the war, cursing himself, cursing everybody.
Why is he here? Why is he into all these bloodsheds? Only because Government pays him for doing this. Or for his countrymen. Which country, which countrymen? The face of his dead father came in front of his eyes who along with his brother and friends were beaten down to death in Mumbai Local Train for being a Bihari… a Bhayya.
Soon his heart filled with repentance. Why am I here to help these Marathis. These are not my people. They are not from my state. They killed my father, my uncle. I shouldn’t be here for these Marathis. This is their land. Let them save it themselves. Where are Raj Thackeray’s warriors? The messiahs of Marathis. I don’t love this country. I don’t love these countrymen. I should go back to my own country, my own people, where I get love and respect.
He looked at the smoking revolver in his hand, and with an oath he hurled it to the roof at his feet. The revolver went off with a concussion and the bullet whizzed past the sniper’s head. He was frightened back to his senses by the shock. His nerves steadied. The cloud of fear scattered from his mind and he laughed. He has to do this for the sake of his and his family’s stomach.
Taking the whiskey flask from his pocket, he emptied it a drought. He felt reckless under the influence of the spirit. He decided to leave the roof now and look for his company commander to report. Everywhere around was quiet. There was not much danger in going through the streets. He picked up his revolver and put it in his pocket. Then he crawled down through the skylight to the house underneath.
When the sniper reached the laneway on the street level, he felt a sudden curiosity as to the identity of the enemy sniper whom he had killed. He thought that he was a good shot, whoever he was. He decided going over to have a look at him. He peered around the corner into Street. In the upper part of the street there was heavy firing, but around here all was quiet.
Police Personnels had already tied rope to the dead Terrorist’s leg. Corpse van had arrived. Media persons were busy taking snaps. He had to struggle to make his way up to the body.
The sniper turned over to the dead body and looked into his brother’s face.
HINDU TERRORISTS, ISLAM TERRORISTS…. More reproachful are these words.