Category Archives: 26/11

BORN ON 26/11 In the shadow of terror

Around the time Ajmal Kasab and Co were on their ruthless killing spree, little Goli opened her eyes to life. A year later, her parents write a thank you letter to the Cama Hospital staff for putting their own lives at risk to give them this precious gift
It was not without reason that one-year-old Goli Chavan was given a dramatic name. While most newborns arrive in the world to a warm welcome and swaddled sleep, she had to lie on the floor of Cama Hospital next to her mother as bullets flew around the labour ward.
Her mother, Viju Chavan, had gone into labour on the night of 26/11 around the time Ajmal Kasab and his terror team started firing randomly inside the hospital. The terrorists were aiming at slaughtering or grabbing as many hostages as they could. Had it not been for the immense courage and presence of mind shown by the hospital staff and the mother herself, we would not be getting set to celebrate Goli’s first birthday four days from now.
“Every day we send up a prayer thanking God for saving us that fateful night of 26/11 and giving us this gift, our daughter,” Viju Chavan tells The Mag, remembering that
horrific night.
Goli of course has another, more proper name: Tejaswini. But her parents say that they prefer to call her by a name that reminds them of the fact that she was born in the shadow of terror and is a symbol of human endurance.
SURVIVAL INSTINCT
The story of that night the Chavans lived through reads like an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Shyamu Laxman Chavan, a dock worker at Sassoon Docks, and his wife Viju have an older son who is now six years old. When Viju became pregnant for the second time, the family had rejoiced. Around 8pm on November 26 last year, Viju started feeling the contractions. Her husband and son rushed with her to Cama Hospital for the delivery.
“At 8.30pm we were inside the hospital. We waited for half an hour to complete the admission procedure. Everything was quiet. I took Viju to the labour ward when she complained of pain. They asked us to wait. In the meanwhile, the gynaecologist gave me a prescription and asked me to get some medicines,” recalls Shyamu.
On his way down to the pharmacy Shyamu saw people running in panic. He also saw a guard lying in a pool of blood. Even then, Shyamu and other visitors to the hospital had no clue that the hospital was under a terror attack.
“The liftman came and rounded us up with his baton. He gave us five minutes to clear out of the ward,” says Shyamu. But something told him they were all better off indoors.
Shyamu is blessed with a strong physique — he exercises in the morning and his work in the docks keeps him fit. Without any idea of what the crisis was about, he used his strength to herd people into the hospital interiors. He had a gut feeling this was different from anything he had experienced.
“We saw people running into the hospital from CST. I realised that this was not an underworld gun-battle because they fight it out on the streets,” he recalls.
WARDBOY’S COURAGE
In sheer panic, the relatives and those seeking shelter in the hospital began banging on the doors of the labour ward. Men are never allowed into hospital maternity wards but these were exceptional circumstances.
“We had learnt of the terror siege by then but we knew that most of the patients and relatives had no clue,” recalls Jayshree Kurdhunkar, who was a nurse on duty that night.
Viju went into labour amidst the firing and was moved to the delivery room. She knew by then that death was waiting outside the door, and bit back cries of agony as she delivered her child, so that the sound would not alert the
terrorists.
“No amount of resolve can alleviate labour pain but I did not shout or scream. I prayed that my baby be born soon and sure enough Goli’s birth was very smooth,” says Viju.
Shyamu has a special word of appreciation for the wardboy Dhondu Raghunath Parab. Parab inspired the people in the ward to face the worst and not panic.
“I will never forget Parab’s words. They still ring in my ears. He said that the firing was so intense that it could easily kill all of us, but instead of just waiting for sure death why not do something to protect our families. He got us to gather the heavy metal equipment lying around the ward and pile them at the door. We all stood behind the barricade, ready to jump at the terrorists if they pushed their way in,” recounts Shyamu.
Parab now gets misty-eyed when he is told by The Mag that Goli’s parents remember him fondly and in admiration. He is just a contract worker at the hospital, but that did not dull his sense of duty towards the patients.
“We were informed that there were terrorists on our premises. So I thought the best way to keep panic at bay was to involve the patients and relatives in some operation. I simply told them we were in a situation where death seemed probable, but that we should not die in vain. We should at least die saving the women and children,” says Parab.
BETTER THAN A MEDAL
The minute Goli was born, she was quickly cleaned and put down on the floor alongside her mother. “There was a window in the delivery room and bullets could easily fly in. So we all huddled under the bed,” says midwife Gohil.
The air finally cleared around 2.30am, almost four hours after Goli’s birth. The family went home with their newborn child, grateful for the exemplary courage shown by the hospital staff. Shyamu and Viju wrote a letter of appreciation to the hospital staff. The Chavans are Banjaras from Karnataka, and the letter is in Kannada, which is Greek to Parab. But it is still a prized article for him.
“I am touched that the parents wrote us a personal letter. We cannot read Kannada, so we got our friends to translate it for us. Their kind words mean more to us than any medal,” he says.
The staff bursts out laughing when they are told that the baby is named Goli. They cannot believe that the couple had taken so seriously a joke they had cracked during the delivery.
“Really? They have named her Goli? Aho, the doctors had told Viju jokingly ‘Tumhi ya mulila goli mhana karan te golyanchya varshav madhe janmala aleli (call her goli because she was born in the midst of gunshots),” says Kurdhunkar.
The Chavans meanwhile are looking forward to celebrating the first birthday of their daughter with a cake-and-chivda party for the neighbours. “We want to mark the day our jewel arrived in this world. We want to share this moment with all the children around us,”
says Viju.