Mumbai

‘Every family has a different story, a unique trauma’

Haunting memories: Zakir Hussain (second from left), who survived the 26/11 attacks at Nariman House, explains his ordeal to a visitor at the memorial on Tuesday.

Haunting memories: Zakir Hussain (second from left), who survived the 26/11 attacks at Nariman House, explains his ordeal to a visitor at the memorial on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: Prashant Nakwe

Eleven years later, survivors of 26/11 still fight their demons every day

A slightly built man walks slowly into Nariman House, also known as Chabad House, in Colaba stopping every few metres. He lets his sunken eyes wander each wall, each nook and corner of the now restored structure, struggling with the memories they bring back.

He comes to a stop at the entrance of the first floor bedroom, followed by a small group of people. He has tears in his eyes.

Zakir Hussain was working as a chef at Nariman House when terrorists attacked it on November 26, 2008. The spot where he has stopped is where he found two-year-old Moshe sitting beside the bodies of his parents, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. Mr. Hussain, Moshe and his nanny Sandra Samuel managed to escape alive after a nearly 36-hour operation, which ended with the National Security Guard storming the place.

Mr. Hussain visited his old workplace for the first time since 2009 on Tuesday, and memories of the attacks haunt him every single day. “Nothing has changed. Everything about the house is exactly how I remember it, just a little modernised,” he said, struggling to hold back tears.

Unforgettable day

“Even though this happened so long ago, it still affects me. Whenever the date comes close, I lock myself in my house and stay there because I am still afraid. It isn’t possible to put into words exactly how much it affects my everyday life, because how will someone ever understand? I was right there, in the middle of it, and I can never forget,” he said.

Mr. Hussain was at Nariman House to participate in an event organised by the Jewish Chabad Lubavitch to remember those lost in the attacks and through a collective catharsis attempted to heal from the trauma together. Three spoken word artistes and five survivors recounted with difficulty their experiences and how they cope with the trauma.

Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Captain Tamil Selvan, who was at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) during the attacks, recounted the helplessness he felt because he couldn’t do anything. He recalled how he piled around 40 people, some of them dead, others injured, on a handcart to safety.

“Anyone who was there that night would have risen to the occasion and risked their lives,” he said.

Also present was Devika Rotawan, who was only nine years old when she was shot in the leg at CSMT and had to spend the next six months undergoing operations. Ms. Rotawan went on to become a star witness in the trial, taking the stand and identifying Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist who was sentenced to be hanged until death.

“Even though Kasab is dead, it doesn’t qualify as justice. Eleven years later, I still feel justice will remain incomplete until everyone is punished. But we shouldn’t be afraid of them. They should fear us. We need to come together and make that happen,” she said.

Kanchan Kanojia from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who has been working with the survivors, spoke about her experiences. Of the 300 families that she has dealt with, 140 are now economically stable with their children in school. “I have worked with the survivors for 11 years now and realised that catering to their short-term needs through money will never be enough. Their mental health needs to be prioritised. Every family has a different story, a unique trauma which needs to be approached in a specific way,” she said.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 1:31:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/every-family-has-a-different-story-a-unique-trauma/article30091619.ece

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