Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dying and maimed ask: Why me?

Harishchandra Shiverhankar scribbled furiously on a notepad, gesturing with his fingers to explain his last bloody memories of Wednesday night before waking up in an unfamiliar hospital bed.
The 56-year-old was walking towards the Metro cinema when he felt his legs collapse - a bullet had been shot through his lower back. A hand then grasped his hair, pulled back his head and a blade slit his neck. He had been caught in the vortex of violence unleashed by people who wanted to murder, not just maim.
Setting down his pad he manages to croak: "This should have never happened to me."
The office worker's story, told from his bed in Mumbai's JJ hospital, is part of a largely hidden tragedy - that behind the headlines of wealthy westerners fleeing Mumbai's terror frontline it was ordinary Indians who bore the brunt of the bloody attack on this city of 19 million people.
Next door to Shiverhankar lies Jayaram Chavan, his leg shattered by bullets. He had been running for his train home to the western suburbs amid the Victorian splendour of Mumbai's main Chhatrapati Shivaji rail terminal when two young men with guns in their hands opened fire. "I wanted to go home, that's all. Why me?"
Outside the private Bombay hospital journalists jostled for news of the three British nationals inside, but little was heard about the 70 Indians that lay next to them. Part of the reason for the lack of publicity about local casualties is that hospitals themselves have banned journalists, pointing out that the militants had targeted wards in the first wave of attacks. No one, unless they could prove they were hospital workers or related to the victims, was supposed to be allowed in. But the Guardian was allowed access by doctors keen to publicise Mumbai's suffering.
In these wards terror has given way to blood and tears. Standing in front of hospital boards displaying the dead and the nearly dead were old women in saris and burkas looking for names of loved ones lost. On blood-soaked beds friends and relatives sat tending the injured.
Indian hospitals are never places for the fainthearted. JJ hospital is one of the city's best public health centres, but yesterday its corridors were smudged with blood and staircases littered with the detritus of medical procedures: wet tissues, empty cartons and used dressings. In the wards nurses rushed from bed to bed looking after not so much human figures as writhing masses of plastic pipes attached to heaps of bandages. Only the flicker of eyes gave away the fact that a patient lay beneath.
The sense that India's creaking public health system might be overwhelmed was palpable. Users of the social media site Twitter, popular with many Indians, sent pleas for blood donors to make their way to hospitals in Mumbai where doctors were faced with low stocks and rising casualties. Wards overflowed with people and doctors said they had worked on three operations an hour.
The bodies kept on coming. In the main hallway of JJ hospital orderlies placed on the floor three bodies swaddled in white cotton. Two were young girls, their faces caked in blood. The other was a man, distinguishable only by his black leather shoes. They all worked in the Trident hotel, wearing the blue and white uniform of service staff. Doctors said they were expecting 30 more bodies to emerge from the smoking hulk of the building and fear that the death toll will soar once the Taj is opened up.
A few miles away in Bombay hospital there were more stories of how the Indian dream had turned into a nightmare. Gunjun Nagpal had been celebrating her 31st birthday at the Golden Dragon restaurant in the Taj Mahal hotel when two gunmen sprayed her table with bullets. She, her mother and her father were killed instantly. Kamal Nagpal, Gunjun's cousin, said her family had been wiped out. "My sister is hanging on for dear life. She's the only one left. We are victims but who is bringing the war [to India]?"
One doctor said that at first "no one could believe that the flow of casualties would ever end. We are a city hospital not an army casualty ward. You have to ask how many bullet wounds and bomb burns we can cope with."
The Bombay hospital, which has waived all fees for those caught up in the bloody events of this week, has also been treating commandos who fell in the line of duty. One doctor said he had never seen such wounds. "Machine gun bullets to the head are not something we see a lot of. Even in Mumbai," said one physician.

Eyewitnesses: From under beds, tables, and 'other people's blood' - tales of survival
Paul Lewis and Rachel Williams
Saturday November 29 2008 00.01 GMT
Victims of Mumbai's terror attacks gave remarkable accounts of their survival last night as the death toll of both Indians and foreigners continued to rise.
Survivors described how they had barricaded themselves into hotel rooms, hidden beneath tables or pretended to be dead in order to escape the rampaging gunmen.
Joey Jeetun, 31, the actor who played the role of a suicide bomber in a TV drama about the 7/7 bombings, said "other people's blood" had saved his life when militants opened fire in the Leopold Cafe, the first of their targets. The moment the attack started, he said, a "local man" pushed him to the floor out of the line of fire: "He said [to me]: 'Get down, get down, don't speak.'
"I just curled myself in the smallest ball I could and closed my eyes. The gunfire was sporadic. It sounded like they sprayed everyone, and then looked to see who was alive - and then started shooting at them on the floor. I was covered in other people's blood and I think that is what saved me," said Jeetun, who portrayed terrorist Shehzad Tanweer in a Five dramatisation of the bombings in London in 2005.
"I was just hoping that if I stayed still they would think I was already dead. After about five minutes, it stopped and I opened my eyes. There were dead people next to me who had been shot in the head. There was blood everywhere."
Harnish Patel, a 29-year-old Briton, was sitting at a nearby table in the cafe: "I was so lucky. The guy [gunman] just took one look at me and showered the whole side of the bar - chairs and table and everything. He just let loose," he told the London Evening Standard. "Luckily he didn't keep his finger down - because if he did, I'd be gone."
Dozens of foreigners were released yesterday from the Oberoi Trident hotel, 36 hours after the militants occupied the building. Among them was Mark Abell, a British businessman who told the BBC he locked himself in his room "surrounded by explosions, gunshots and people screaming" with no food and little water.
An Italian chef, Emanuele Lattanzi, emerged carrying his baby daughter.
Another child, Moshe Holtzberg, aged two, had been smuggled out of the Jewish centre the previous day before it was stormed by commandos; his parents were among the five hostages inside who were found dead - Gavriel Holtzberg, a New York rabbi, and his wife, Rivka, who ran the local office of the ultra-orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
Up to 19 foreigners in all died in the attacks, reportedly among them three Germans and one citizen each from Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan, Thailand and Singapore.
With more than 370 injured, the overall toll stood at more than 150 last night and included:
· Loumia Hiridjee, French, 47, the founder of the fashion brand Princesse Tam Tam, and her husband, Mourad Amarsy, 49. The couple had settled in India with their three children, and were dining at the Oberoi Trident hotel when it was attacked.Hiridjee came from a family of Indian merchants who had settled in the former French colony of Madagascar. She and her sister, Shama, studied in France, and created their first collection in 1985.
· Alan Scherr, an American, and his daughter Naomi, 13. They were members of the Synchronicity Foundation, a meditation community in Virginia, and were among 25 participants in a meditation programme in Mumbai. They were killed in a cafe on Wednesday night. Scherr's wife, Kia, and their two sons had not travelled to India.
· Monica Chhabria, sister of the Bollywood actor Ashish Chowdhary. She and her husband had gone for dinner at the Oberoi Trident hotel, and Chowdhary had been waiting since Wednesday night for news of what had happened to them.
· The wife and two sons of the general manager of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. They were said to have been staying in a suite on the top floor of the 105-year-old hotel.

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