It is a sticky monsoon day in Mumbai, and Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz walks through the shell of Nariman House. Today, the ruined five-storey structure is testament to the ferocity of the terrorists’ incursion and their battle with Indian commandos. It seems impossible that anyone could have come out alive. All its window frames are empty. The lift is slumped at the bottom of its shaft, and giant, jagged chunks of the internal stairway and handrail are missing. At one point, a section of wall many metres high is gone, and the stairs would be open to the sky if not for a plastic draping. Some rooms appear almost untouched; in others, the walls are pulverised, the splatter-marks of gunfire everywhere.
Berkowitz is an American charged with recreating the Mumbai outpost of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a Hasidic outreach and educational organisation that sends emissaries around the world. “We are in deep shock,” says Berkowitz, 33. “They have left a gaping hole in our community.” The questions the Lubavitch movement faces are being asked of thousands of other people in the city: what to take from tragedy, how to heal, how to go forward. But even as the organisation looks to the future, uncertainty lingers over what took place during those 48 hours last November. During the siege, six foreigners were murdered inside Nariman House and three Indians were killed on the surrounding streets. Four people from inside the house survived. The building was run by Lubavitch, and was part of a larger attack on hotels and public buildings across Mumbai that resulted in the deaths of at least 166 people. But for the terrorists themselves, Nariman House was different. It was the only Jewish target, and the terrorists would be told by their handlers in Pakistan that the lives of Jews were worth 50 times those of non-Jews. The organisers had sought it out with care. Most Mumbaikars knew of the Taj Mahal hotel. Few were aware of the small Jewish centre tucked away on a backstreet.Strangely, considering Nariman House’s central place in the attacks, the events of the siege are a mystery. The full story of what happened, of how the siege began, of the hostages who escaped, and of the baby who was rescued, has never been told.
The storage room in which Sandra Samuel and Zakir Hussain were hiding from the gunmen measured 3.5 metres by 3 metres. It was lined with shelves, two windows looked out onto grubby lanes and courtyards, and there was a stainless-steel refrigerator. A banal scene, really, but it was a sanctuary. For around three hours, Sandra, 44, a plainly dressed and dedicated nanny, and Zakir, 22, a diminutive cook with delicate, almost feminine features who called himself Jackie, had been wedged behind the fridge. “I called the police, I called our security guard,” says Jackie. “I thought this was the end for me.” There was little indication of what the men upstairs were doing with the American rabbi, his wife and son, Moshe, who was almost two, and their guests. “Nobody was speaking, there was just the moving of tables, shaking noises, bumps, things being pushed against the wall, things grinding,” says Sandra. It was approaching 1am on Thursday, November 27, 2008.
In an adjacent building, a British woman, Anna, was crouching in the hall of her apartment with her Indian husband. Anna, 41, is a thoughtful, dark-haired teacher; she didn’t want to give her real name because, in light of what happened in her adopted city, she fears becoming a target. All their windows — about 21 panes — had shattered from a blast after the gunshots and explosions had started at Nariman House at 9.45pm the previous night. So they waited on the floor for hours in the darkness, calling and receiving calls from worried relatives and friends, unsure of what was going on next door, even though Nariman House was only a few steps away. Curiously, the thing that struck Anna was the silence. It was as though the city beyond had ceased to exist. No car horns, no chatter from the street, none of the normal hum of a sprawling tropical metropolis. That night there was nothing except for gunshots, and they issued from Nariman House infrequently.
Read more at Times UK