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Posted on Nov 30, 2008
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mumbai attacks

‘I have met the eyes of the terrorist, and know I’m a better man’

Mohammad Taufeeq Sheikh, who has been selling chai at VT station for 14 years, helped save lives when the firing began

ROHINI MOHAN

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Mohammed Taufeeq Sheikh saved the lives of at least 80 passengers
Photo
:Shailendra Pandey

The Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus is a mass of about 5 lakh people teeming in and out, a blur of feet directed by the metallic cacophony of helpful announcements. VT, as it's called by Mumbaikars, witnessed some of the earliest gunfire on that fateful Wednesday. Fifty six people, the largest number in all the places the gunmen targeted in the city, died here and 250 were injured. Blood spilled over its mosaic floors, splattering on walls. In 24 hours, it had been wiped clean, along with the fear that gripped it. VT has work to do. And people to get home.

Mohammad Taufeeq Sheikh walks about the station today, one hand holding his aluminium kettle filled with piping hot tea, and the other swinging a tumbler-rack. He's been doing this everyday since he was 14 years old, serving tea to railway employees. He's affectionately called Chotu by the employees, although he admits he's 28 years old now. Wherever he walks today, people pat his back with pride. Chotu had saved the lives of at least 80 passengers, dodging a few bullets himself.

"I was standing by the chemist shop when I heard a sound like boom-boom-rat-a-tat-tat! I have never heard gunfire in my life, so I thought it was crackers after the cricket match," says Chotu, "But the sound kept getting louder, and I saw a woman fall." That is when Chotu realised it had nothing to do with cricket. He rushed near the booking office at the entrance where about 40-50 people were lined up in queues to buy tickets. "I told them to run upstairs, but some people wanted to still get their tickets and refunds. No one understood the situation, until the black T-shirt terrorist fired directly at me." This is the only terrorist the police have in custody today. "I jumped to the side, and the bullet hit the wall. That is when people started listening to me. I ran with them to show the office upstairs and led about 20 people out."

Chotu came back to see the firing still on, and the booking clerks behind the glass, watching, frozen to the spot. He ran in, bolted the door and asked them to duck. "One of the gunmen thrashed the door, trying to get in and abusing in a strange kind of Punjabi," says Chotu, remembering every moment in detail, "When it didn't open, he fired directly at the glass." One shard of glass flew into a clerk's throat, and he collapsed. Other clerks say Chotu immediately threw the man on his shoulder and ran out, the bullets still following him. "Chotu saw other injured people on the way, and called the ambulance and the RPF," says booking clerk S Kumar, who stayed at the station his entire night shift after the firing, "The rest of us were too stunned to think." No NSG personnel came to the VT station, and even the police arrived after the guns had stopped firing. "It was Chotu, and a few passengers who were our commandos," says S Kumar, hugging an embarrassed Chotu. "The police tried, but what can they do with dandaas in front of big guns and grenades?"

"Is this killing and bloody violence supposed to be in the name of Islam? I don't know this kind of Islam," says Chotu, "I picked up dead bodies of four babies, their little legs and hands covered in blood. What is their fault? Why did they have to die?" He felt sick and feverish at the sight of all that blood, but stayed on, escorting dozens of injured to the St George railway hospital. When he went home after 24 hours, exhausted and bleeding, he says he knew it was all worth it. "My brothers, sisters and father were safe. They were proud of me," says Chotu, holding back tears, "I have met the eyes of that terrorist in the black T-shirt, and I know I'm a better man."

 

Posted on Nov 30, 2008

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