I remember the night of 26/11. We were at a colleague’s wedding when the first reports of a gang war in Mumbai reached us. A videojournalist called his colleague in the Mumbai team and he said that there is news of gunfire in CST and around Cama Hosiptal. I remember reaching home that night to switch on the TV and spending the next few hours transfixed. This was no gang war. It was more than that.
I was working for a news channel which until then had a scattered viewership. 26/11 as it was to be called would go on to become its big ticket story…the one that would make every Indian sit up and watch its coverage. By the next morning when I reached my office everyone was on the story. As a producer in the programming team, stuck in Delhi there was very little I could do. Some of my reporter friends were flying away to Mumbai. The team needed more hands and feet. By then the channel had flung into action, calling all its forces to report to duty. I remember feeling a little disappointed. I have never considered myself an on-field reporter. But at that moment, on that day, I wanted to be one. I wanted to help…somehow. Naïve that I was, I think I was largely swept by my emotions. Looking back at it now, I don’I think no news event has ever affected me more than 26/11.
A year later, I was still working for the same channel. The editor asked me to move to Mumbai with my team. I picked two of my most able producers, leaving behind another bunch to produce the weekly that we put out every weekend. With a team with 2 producers and a video-editor we landed in Mumbai. We were two weeks away from the weekend before 26/11. Since I was a producer looking at long-format shows, I began counting the days. He gave us 3 shows to produce.
Our first was called I Will Never Forget. I remember meeting 9 year old Devika in her house. She was at CST when Kasab and his accomplice fired bullets are passengers. Devika was shot in the leg. A year later, she had testified against Kasab and in her resilience I saw a face of Mumbai that I had only heard of. The story of the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel and its general manager Mr Karambir Sing Kang was of a special importance to us. He had lost his family in the Taj attack and when I was lining up the interview at the hotel, my friend who worked in the PR team asked me not to ask about his family. We didn’t. The hotel had renovated its singed walls and was opening its heritage wing again for the public. As we heard and recorded the stories of valour and duty, we knew reconstruction was not easy. Farzad and Fahrang, the brothers who own Leopold had not removed the bullets from its walls. A year later, Farzad told us about Peer, his staffer who was felled by bullets. He said, “That man Peer Pasha put in 22 years of his life in this place. How can I let him go? He was the man who every afternoon made tea for me. I would say Peer chai banao even after his death.” Five years later, I doubt he has forgotten him. Swastika, the show director pieced together several narratives. Of witnesses, survivors and people who saw the carnage unfold right before them. We decided to end the show with the story of Vishu’s baby girl who was born on the night of 26/11. She was named Goli. She would be 5 years today.
The story of 26/11 was also the story of bravehearts – The Men Who Fought. The chilling, brick-by-brick account of how the Mumbai police, army, marine commandos and NSG carried out the operation was documented. At a time when television cameras were beaming live visuals of the rescue operations it was believed that Pakistani handlers gave directions by watching news channels. When the siege had ended I remember watching reporters choking with emotions, thanking NSG commandos and all officers in uniform. Arun Jadhav, the lone survivor in the Qualis that had Karkare, Kamat and Salaskar, said to us, “It was a matter of how many seconds more I am going to live. One second. Two second.” A year later as Dency brought back interviews and we pieced the show together, the objective was to relive that same emotion.
Moshe’s Story was a particularly difficult one. Here was a story that we had to knit together without any access to the real child. The cries of that 2 year old wrenched everyone who heard the baby cry. Or the brave stories of Sandra, the child’s nanny or the family’s cook who rescued the child. We had a tough time getting Qazi, the cook to share his story with us. It took a lot of convincing for Abhishek, the show director to get him on board. We recounted the story at Chabbad House with those chilling interceptions betweens terrorists and handlers. As a mother now, Moshe’s loss is still very poignant to me. His aching cries of ‘Ima, Ima’ still send shivers down my spine. The story of a little boy orphaned in a foreign country.
Two weeks was spent in a wink. We spent hours at work, shooting, logging, scripting, editing. We spent days at work. Meals were skipped. We slept in turns in the editing rooms. We went back to the guest house only for a shower. We worked feverishly. It’s all part of the job…but what came of it was a series that remains close to my heart.
Five years later when I look back at the series, I realize that for a journalist – producer, a story or a show comes and goes…what remains is the passion with which she chooses to pursue it. I am not writing this blog to showcase my work (which I have never done on this blog); instead it is to recount a moment in my career where I worked to tell a story like no one else. Anniversaries are not always good. It’s one thing to celebrate a wedding anniversary. But calling a day of death, horror and destruction as an anniversary mars the positivity of the word. Remembrance is a better word. A day can be remembered for its dark memories, for the hurt, for the lessons learnt and the tough battle towards recovery. It is a moment that we must never forget, not on this day…but every day.
Five years later, I still spot errors in the shows I produced back then, but then that’s me… so much so for remembrance and picking up lessons!