That day mustn't come again

I flew back in Delhi after an exhausting day of work at the B.A.G’s Mumbai office. I sat to pursue my daily unwinding ritual of channel surfing. Least did I expect to see the dastardly act that was shaking the city and draining blood of the country.

I immediately got on the phone to connect with the News 24 Mumbai and Delhi team. The channel had already dispatched reporters who were already present and reporting from ground zero. I watched the news feeds as they came in and as they were being relayed then on the channel. The terrorists had entered the heritage Taj Hotel- the most esteemed and loved landmark of the city, and taken the staff and guests hostage. They had grounded themselves at the Oberoi Trident firing at unsuspecting people and horrifying people like an untold unheard nightmare. They had sprayed bullets on unsuspecting people at the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus and Leopold Café. AK-47s had been used and we got news of 20 people being murdered at the busy CST station and hundreds wounded.

At the popular hang out Leopold Café, news came in of five people being killed and many more injured. The terrorists were still on the loose prolonging the tragedy. Any person familiar with Mumbai knows the mad rush the CST station witnesses every single day, clamouring on to trains that accommodate hundreds of people more than capacity. Every person who goes to Mumbai has the Leopold Café on their tourist destinations, for its quaint feel and heritage. I was numb as an Indian with the thought of the havoc the act would have caused at the sites and how many more would suffer in this mindless war that had been waged on us.

Minute by minute more news kept coming in. News 24’s resident editor Hemant Sharma stood organizing his whole team and simultaneously giving piece to cameras one after the other. From the youngest of reporters to the most experienced, all set out to report the horror. The police had cordoned off the Taj and the other attacked sites and rescue operations were ensuing. Additional Commissioner of Mumbai Police had received information that a colleague had been injured in the gunfire at the Cama and Albless Hospital for women and children. They took a Toyota Qualis and proceeded in that direction. Two terrorists stepped out from behind a tree and opened fire with AK-47 automatic rifles. Priti Sompura, News 24’s reporter, was present with the cameraperson steps away from the site. Kamte had managed to retaliate, wounding a terrorist in the arm. In few minutes, news of them having succumbed to their wounds infuriated and saddened the nation.

At the Taj, India witnesses that the Anti Terror Squad Chief Hemant Karkare had arrived and looked set to lead his team to bring the nightmare to an end. He geared up in moments in his helmet and bullet proof jacket. Was there hope for the nightmare to end shortly, reporters asked…

It was through the live reports that we saw him go... Through the ropes and into the hotel, braving the threat he faced in his line of duty. Within seconds, the terrorists eliminated him. Their bullets pierced his so called bullet proof outfit. News 24’s anchor Sayeed Ansari told the nation of the death of one of the finest police officers to his audience. Such was the rush of blood and the magnitude of the tragedy, that his voice choked and eyes watered as he stood speaking to the camera. Another blow to efforts to end the disaster burning…another irreplaceable loss that had engulfed us all.

Every moment was a shocker, every second a life changer. News 24’s Managing Editor Ajit Anjum, Director News Supriya Prasad and Input Head Rahul Mahajan rushed back from where they were to the news room to bring the shocking incident to their audience. Rahul Mahajan caught the first flight to Mumbai to bring the intensity and magnitude of the attack to the television screen. Supported ably by Shadab Alam, Mukul, Arun Pandey, Manish, Shashi Shekhar, Vikas, Preeti Sompura and Santosh Tiwari, the teams ensured reports relayed on the channel without any interruption.

Raman Kumar and Amit Kumar, handling Delhi bureau, spent their night alternating between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Home Minister’s office seeking their reactions and responses to the tragedy. Manish Kumar and the whole fleet of reporters coordinated with Hemant Sharma on a minute to minute basis to bring news as it happened. Naveen Bisht, Adarsh Rastogi and their teams packaged all reports non stop in tandem with the reports.

The Taj Hotel was totally under siege, and the freaks inside were firing randomly at staff and guests. Chefs, servers, attendants, people out for tea and dinner, foreigners out on vacation… There was only a number attached to the men and women who were falling dead with each aimless bullet being fired by the mad men inside. Bombs went off in two taxis close to where Vivek Gupta was reporting for News 24. Saved by a hair’s distance, it was all a joke to the men who had planned it all. To those suffering, to the ones reporting, to those witnessing - just an indescribable feeling raging within.

Bullets were in an arms reach and terror was striking one the same plane on which stood the men and women reporting development, moment after moment. From News 24, cameramen Murganathan, Prahlad Singh, Vijay Chaudhary, Jitendra Singh, Imteyaz Khan and Akhilesh Singh positioned themselves at various points around the Taj, and the other sites. Reporters Priti Sompura, Vivek Gupta, Bhupendra Singh, Ankur Tyagi, Pravin Mishra and Vinod Jagdale stood, lay down, squatted - like the hundreds of other reporters from various news channels to report what was the worst terror attack on the nation.

News came in that the CST station and Leopold Café had been taken over by security forces. 52 people had been killed at CST and 109 injured. 10 people had been killed at Leopold and many other were left maimed and bleeding. Hospitals were bustling, trying to aid the injured. Meanwhile, a one-sided war was raging at the Taj, Oberoi and Nariman house - all a stone’s throw away from each other. India watched as the moment by moment account was brought to them live by those standing at arm’s length with death. India united as news of the tragedy their compatriots faced stared them in their face.

Amidst reports and the madness of bringing it all live from the newsroom, I called my friends in Mumbai enquiring about their safety, several of them including Sabina Sehgal Saikia. I could hear the numbness of their family members as they spoke flatly about their loved ones.

Day after day, worse news kept coming in. And the fact that ten men had held the country to ransom for 24, then 48, then 72 hours exposed the helplessness of the common man and infuriated us all as never before. And for all the four days, Resident Editor Hemant Sharma relayed developments second by second in coordination with the Delhi team. Anchors Sayeed Ansari, Anjana Kashyap and Akhilesh Anand reported the minute by minute developments on all days non-stop. Reporters like Ankur Tyagi, Sanket Pathak, Anuja Karnik, Aarti Dani, and Anshul Agrawal along with camerapersons Dilip Rawani, Naveen Pandey, Mintu Singh, Kanti Parmar, Sameer Sherke and Babaji Nanaware continued to report and bring live second by second developments. Supplement reporters who had been flown in to support the Mumbai team included Satyendra Upadhyay and Nalini Rajput.

Amidst the humdrum, one wondered why when we are surrounded by enemies, can we not have a centralized anti terror agency to ensure that such an incident doesn’t reach the proportions it reached? Why did our heroes have to die so arbitrarily while protecting us? Could there be no concerted effort to end the nightmare? Why was New Delhi at such a loss after the death of three fine officers and why could it not garner a unit to end the ensuing disaster? No one seemed to be in command; no one seemed to be leading the way to end the nightmare.

A year later, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra has honoured Priti Sompura, Vivek Gupta and Ankur Tyagi with the Maharashtra Congress Committee award for their efforts in reporting the horrific day in the face of acute danger. News 24 recounts the horror of this day last year with its show, Morche Par Reporter, that also commemorates the men and women from across news channels who reported the days of horror for their compatriots and helped unite the country into one in the hours of grief and mourning.

We all asked a hundred questions, vented our fury, wrote, debated, argued and fought…and then fell silent. Like we always have done…like we always do…A year later, there is yet no unified command in place with the anger, sorrow and helplessness that engulfs me like the billion people of India.

(Anurradha Prasad is News24 Editor-in-Chief and BAG Films & Media CMD)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author and need not necessarily subscribe to the same)

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