With Five Steps
Even people who
saw Nariman House everyday did not know what it was or pay any attention
until the tragic attack.
ROHINI MOHAN tells its story
smouldering Nariman House
Photos: Shailendra Pandey
It was a house no
one really saw. Until grenades flew out from its windows. Hostages Rabbi
Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka died in the terrorist gunfire that
shook Nariman House for 40 hours. They are survived by their two-year-old
son, who is with an uncle in Worli now.
Nariman House in Mumbai stands in a usually lively residential street
in Colaba, but very few neighbours have ever seen its door. "It's
located in what we call in Marathi Panch Pairi road, or five steps road.
And that's the size of the entrance too. It's so narrow that even I, who've
lived here all my life, have missed it," says Viraf, a bank employee
who lives in Colaba Court behind Nariman house.
A wall around the Nariman House separates it from houses at the back and
the near-inaccessible entrance hides it from front view too. This was
the challenge even the 20 NSG commandos faced—there was no way to
look into the House, or even access its windows. It is flanked on all
sides by buildings, which is why the NSG personnel decided to enter from
the roof, dropped by a helicopter.
The Nariman House was a combination of Jewish educational centre, prayer
hall, and lodge, and was known by Israelis as Chabah House. It is one
of more than 3,000 such Jewish centres run by the Lubavitch Hasidic movement
around the world. In India, there are three other such centres in Bangalore,
Manali and Goa.
Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka ran this house, giving food
and shelter to many Israeli backpackers. They had moved to India five
years ago from their home in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which is the headquarters
of the Chabad-Lubavitch community they were part of. Since 2003, Mumbai
has been their home, and they opened their doors to anyone from the Jewish
community who found themselves lost in Maximum City. They charged a rent
of just Rs 500 per room, a steal for backpackers in Mumbai.
Mumbai Police Chief Hassan Gafoor says, "The two terrorists had posed
as lodgers, who wanted a room for the night. That's how they entered the
house." The first grenade hit the petrol station in front of the
building, and it brought people rushing out of their houses. Amid the
flames, many looked for the source of the ensuing gunfire. Since the house
is marred from view, all the local shopkeepers could do till the ATS came
was to ensure that no bystanders got near the general area.
"I knew it was a house for many foreigners," says Praveen Kumar
Patel, who has been selling sugarcane juice from a cart in the
NSG commando lands on the Nariman House during the rescue operation
opposite corner for
25 years, "Many firangs drank juice here, but I didn't know they
were from Israel. They seemed harmless, why would anyone want to kill
This is one question
all the neighbours ask: Why was this house a terror target? It is not
known yet if this was chosen by terrorists for a reason, but Rabbi Yisroel
Lew of a Chabad centre in London says, "We are no one's enemies.
We're just religious people who keep to ourselves. Our beliefs may have
offended these people blinded by their intolerance. Or it could be simply
because we're Israeli."
community is comprised of orthodox Jews who are Israeli by nationalty.
Chabad is a Hebrew acronym for the three intellectual faculties of: chachmah--wisdom,
binah--comprehension and da'at--knowledge. Lubavitch is a town in Russia,
where the sect originated, and spread across the world. News of the attack
on Mumbai's Chabad House gripped centres around the world.
Rabbi Gavriel had called the Consulate General of Israel asking for help,
as soon as the firing started. But it was only 40 hours later that the
NSG ended its Operation Tornado, eliminating the terrorists inside. They
could not, however, save the Rabbi and his wife, who eyewitnesses who
saw their bodies being taken out, say looked like they were dead a long
time. Perhaps on the very first day. A commando, Joginder Singh, was also
killed in the operation.
A BMC official told TEHELKA that Nariman House is now
in danger of collapsing.