Did it feel like a lonely wedding? Bhumika Raut simply twitched her nose and smiled. Her special day was three years ago. And three days after the 26/11 attacks. Bhumika didn't mind the mass absence at her wedding.
The house she was marrying into is located at the famous fishing colony at Cuffe Parade in south Mumbai. Panic reigned for days among the fisher folk of the tiny village, where Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab and his companions arrived on November 26, 2008 to carry out the most dastardly attack India had ever seen.
“We stayed up the whole night – men, women and children,” said Shobha Dhanu, a resident.
“Throughout the night we heard firing and explosions and smoke rising in the distance. A rumour went round that the attackers had returned to the colony. ‘They have come!' ‘They have come!' We just bolted inside our homes. There was a wedding we had to attend. We were supposed to leave a couple of days early since it was a wedding in the community. But no one went for the wedding,” Ms. Dhanu said.
“Now we are not afraid anymore, but for the first two months we were gripped by fear,” recalled Suvarna Tandel, another resident.
The memory of the terror returns with the date or is triggered by random conversations and associations. “We have not forgotten,” Ms. Dhanu said.
“That day everyone was watching a cricket match. So no one was outside. Some of our people were sitting out on the bank. Had they intercepted the attackers the first firing would have taken place in this colony. We would have been the first to fall prey,” she said.
The stringent security checks that were put in place after the attacks have come as a boon and bane for the fisherfolk. A police chowky has provided a sense of security. Photo passes were issued to seafarers for their respective boats.
But they have brought their own set of problems. “Sometimes if any of the seafarers on the boat is sick, we hire some help for a small amount. There is a pass system for this, but it has to be done within a particular time. If not, then we get into trouble. This is a serious problem,” said Bahgwan Kashinath Dhanur, a fisherman.
“The authorities beat up our men if they did not have a photo pass. What do you do if one is sick? You have to take someone else along,” said Ms. Tandel.
The tale of 26/11 and the tryst with the attackers are now part of the community's lore which seems to have been passed on to small children as well. Not long ago, at a festival, Gaurav Patil played the role of Kasab in a play staged in the fishing village.
Gaurav himself was at school when this reporter went to his house, but Kasab's role has enough takers, says 12-year-old Arjun Patil.
Yash Rathod is 11. He would have been just 8 years old at the time of the terror strikes. But he seems to have caught on to the finer details. “Kasab? Yes, I know him. He killed a boatman, a taxi driver. They came by boat. Everyone talks about it. They even picked up one woman from here.” Yash's reference is to Anita Udaya, a resident woman who created a scandal two years ago by making outlandish claims of seeing the attackers and being whisked away by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
“Our people are angry,” said Mr. Dhanur. “It's just that when the attackers came they thought they were from the Navy what with them carrying so much equipment. But the next time, we will get them. We will not leave them,” he declared.
The colony would hope there is no next time.