S1E29: Harry Survives 26/11
Recap S1E28 Shom and Raima in Bliss : Shom and Raima spell out a code of conduct for their relationship. They promise to support each other while giving their partner enough space.
Shom tells Raima that being soulmates, they will come close to one another with each successive birth, until their souls merge as one.
Raima finds this illogical but Shom counters that the mysteries of the universe are beyond the human intellect.
To support his point, Shom embarks on telling Raima about his soulmate Aruna from his schooldays and how he had lost her.
In Raima, he had reconnected with Aruna. Raima too accepts this fact. The realisation unites them. The bond transcends physical boundaries and becomes infinite.
“What’s the plan how long are we staying here in the factory?” asked Khush.
“Why, aren’t you comfortable here?” said Harry.
“I like it here, a perfect getaway, scenic and with fresh air, but…”
“But something is missing after Shom and Raima left.”
“Where do you think they would have reached? They should comeback; it’s raining cats and dogs in Bombay, I just found out.”
“Get Raima out of your mind, she’s with Shom. They might have stopped for coffee. The highway has many restaurants now; there’s no problem reaching Bombay, rain or shine. Shom can handle it.”
“What’s Raima got to do with this? We’re good friends and I have known her before Shom set her eyes on her.”
“How did you get to know her?”
“This was just after 26/11 when the terrorists attacked the Taj hotel.”
The light of dawn partially lit up the autumn sky. Raima kept looking at her watch anxiously. Unable to sleep all night, she rushed down to wake up the watchman to open the gate.
All at once, there was an explosion, followed by an earth-shattering sound that kept going on and on. This led to a major panic in the building and a police siren was heard at a distance. The bomb squad rushed in, closely followed by the fire brigade. This upmarket residential area was woken up with a rude shock. Many residents trooped down to the spot where the entire brigade had come to a grinding halt inside the society compound, in front of an empty steel bin resonating with the disturbing sound.
Clad in a titanium alloy armour, the bomb squad kept a safe distance from the clattering bin. Using a long pole, they tipped the bin over. A rod-like object sprung out, kicking up dust around where it fell on the ground. Whirring with vibration, it flipped and tossed about in a dance for everyone to see.
The chief of the squad looked thoroughly perplexed. “What on earth is this gadget?” he asked.
Someone from the crowd was heard saying, “Looks like a dancing snake.”
A ripple of laughter went through the crowd. The chief cautiously inched towards the vibrating item. Suddenly, his deputy, Khushroo (Khush) Screwala side-stepped him and grabbed the vibrating rod. He picked it up for everyone to see and switched it off. The smile on his face said it all.
It appeared as though he was diffusing a bomb. What followed was a huge applause. He became a hero. The news reporters and the cameramen who were in their element post 26/11, made Khush instantly famous.
Khush beamed with pride and remembered his childhood friend Shom. He wanted to share this moment with him.
“26/11! The deadliest day for most of us in SoBo. I was at the Taj that day,” recalled Harry.
“What happened? How did you survive?” enquired Khush.
I was in a meeting with a group of South Koreans from Samsung as the terrorists barged in. We were as good as done when something I uttered made all the difference. How I happened to take a chance, knowing it could be at the cost of my life, God alone can tell.”
For the first time Khush saw perspiration on Harry’s forehead. His face looked horrified.
“What did you tell them?”
“I just uttered ‘China, Chinese’. That made all the difference. It was transmitted to the mastermind in Pakistan.”
“My God! What a presence of mind! What happened next?”
“The South Koreans were very nervous and they as good as shat. South Korea being a strong US ally, they would have been the first to be shot down. We struggled to maintain our sanity. Fortunately, we were the first to be escorted out.”
“Oh my God!” Khush held Harry tight, as if God had just sent him back from certain death.
“Relax, Khush, let’s enjoy the coffee. Tell me where you were that day.”
“I was safe and sound that day, but…,” Khush took a long pause.
“It’s a long story. After the terrorists were captured, the Taj was reopened…” He poured himself a second round of coffee.
Khush had a childhood friend with whom he shared a bond unlike any other. His name was Suman Bhatia, but Khush called him Shom, a name Suman used for his clandestine operations.
Khush and Shom grew up in the lanes of Colaba, next to Strand Cinema, the most happening place in Mumbai at that time. A day after the disastrous 26/11 incident, Khush was driving Shom’s Jag to the Taj Mahal hotel to survey the damage inflicted. Shom was sitting beside Khush, talking about the Chambers at the Taj and how they had escaped the 26/11 horror because he had gotten tied up elsewhere that day.
Suddenly, twelve cops came down on their moving car without any warning. As the car screeched to a halt, one overly aggressive cop went wild with his lathi (thick bamboo stick). Without listening to Shom’s or Khush’s explanation, he smashed the windscreen. When Khush attempted to retaliate, he was badly hit by the lathi. Shom intervened and managed to cool down the cop before the situation got any worse.
When Khush got out of the car, he was in a bad shape. And livid. Not wanting to take this insult lying down, he decided to teach these cops a lesson. There was a row of cars behind theirs, Khush knew he had to exaggerate the entire matter to keep up his image. The cops were Z-plus Security for the Chief Minister who was at the Taj Mahal hotel inspecting the damage.
Khush swung into action, made a few calls and got the media to the spot. He called on all the witnesses that had collected around. Many of them got out of the cars piled up behind theirs. The cops realised how badly they had blundered. Their chief requested Khush to forget the incident. He sheepishly whispered into Khush’s ear that he had just received information that the Chief Minister was on his way out and therefore he had to immediately clear the traffic outside the hotel.
Khush realised there was no point in getting mad at the cop when the onus was on the corrupt politicians who used these cops as puppets for their whims and fancies. The cop on the beat who carried out this operation was also apologetic. He quickly produced an ice pack for the reddening, bulging spots on Khush’s arm. All this was surprising because to see the cops behave compassionately was virtually unknown in India.
As the Chief Minister rode out in the convoy, waving out to the crowd, Khush recognised the man next to him. It was a big-time Bollywood director.
“It’s quite clear now,” said Khush. ‘The purpose of this sudden visit is to make a movie on the 26/11 incident!”
Khush was ready for the media now and he hogged the limelight. The newspaper and TV reporters were all over the place, so were the cameras. Shom kept himself aloof. He deliberately mingled with the crowd so that he could not be spotted by the media. Being a private person, he hated the idea of any publicity, quite unlike Khush who loved being the centre of attention.
Next day, the coverage was all over the papers and the CM was left red-faced. After what South Mumbai went through, all that the CM could think of was capitalising on this disaster and making a movie about this sensitive issue. A battered Khush in front of the battered car made a perfect picture for all the papers. The TV report showing Khush limping towards the car was sensational indeed. To add to it, Khush was a pro at talking to the media. He aroused a lot of sympathy. To Shom’s relief, there was no mention of his name anywhere.
Khush was exultant, although still bruised. He felt the turmoil he had been through, had a good purpose to it.
To be continued…