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Friday, December 5, 2008

Eyewitness to Terror

BATTLE GROUND : St Xavier’s College approx 9.40 p.m. onwards

"There's been some firing at V.T. station," he said. It didn’t sound too serious. But within minutes, the scenario changed - and how! TV channels blared the news of a possible gangland gun battle at Leopold's Cafe, in Colaba. By 10.15 pm, frenzied reporters on all channels screamed, "we have a terrorist attack…shooting at the CST station reported….and they have entered the Taj Hotel in Colaba."

Suddenly, unexpectedly, all hell broke loose around St. Xavier's College. Machine guns fired (sounds very different from the ' rat-a-tat ' that we hear in movies) and grenades blasted around us. We listened in hushed, frightened silence to the deadly news that the 'atankvadis’ – terrorists- were in the neighboring Cama Hospital premises. Some of us huddled in the recreation room before the TV; some, standing on the long third floor terrace, watched disbelievingly at rifle-toting commandos enacting battle-like scenes before our eyes; and, some slept!

Standing in the corridor facing the Azad Maidan, Paul Vaz was visibly shaken. He saw a man shot in cold blood, just in front of our college driveway on Mahapalika Marg. Proof, that the ‘terrorists’ had scrambled past our main gates!

Peering over the railing of the terrace facing St. Xavier's School, Joe Velinkar and Arun watched in disbelief. Just a few feet from the College side-gate (the one facing Rang Bhavan), two men were crouched behind a white car with a spinning red light atop it. Then, with guns firing in the air, they "coolly," according to Velinkar, walked past the Rang Bhavan, and entered the G.T.Hospital complex.

Sometime between these two happenings, in this same area, brave policemen met their deaths in front of the Corporation Bank, which is situated at the extreme end of the college building. Bullets whizzed - dented the door of the bank and the red, steel electric sub-station. This is the spot where ACP Ashok Kamte (an alumnus of St. Xavier's College), Hemant Karkare, the ATS Chief (his daughter had completed her studies last year at Xavier’s) and Vijay Salaskar met their end.

Presumably, the young terrorists escaped in these officers’ Qualis van - the same Qualis that fired indiscriminately, killing two youth living in houses behind our college. And then later, on bystanders at the Metro junction a few meters away. But, within our college stone walls, surrounded by hours of bloody violence, someone surely was watching over us and our hostelites. That same someone is now prodding us to work harder - in and through our Institutions - to bring about change; to make a difference - in our beloved India.

If you prayed for us…THANK you

Lawrence Ferrao SJ

Fr Lawrie, principal of Bombay's prestigious Xavier Institute of Communications, was the celebrant at our daughter Pia's wedding in Goa, November 24, 2008. He sent me this eyewitness account.