His mind and life scarred, Mumbai survivor learns to smile again

Govind is now 38 years old, and slowly rebuilding his life, piece by piece, settling into a new job as an accounts manager with a Dadar-based Parsi institution.

Updated: December 5, 2016 3:45 pm

Govind Singh Kathayat had hallucinations for six years. He would lock himself in his room, convinced that there were terrorists pounding on the door. Within seconds, he would switch from rage to tears. Unlike many other survivors of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, who learnt to cope, Govind simply couldn’t let go.

Not long after that November 26, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, triggering a series of visits to Thane Mental Hospital, which almost became his second home until 2014.

Govind is now 38 years old, and slowly rebuilding his life, piece by piece, settling into a new job as an accounts manager with a Dadar-based Parsi institution. His marriage collapsed, but he is looking for love again. He hasn’t met his son in six years, but he isn’t losing hope.

Employed at the popular Busaba restaurant behind the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel eight years ago, Govind was at work when two of the gunmen jogged down the lane from Leopold Cafe towards the Taj, as people ran around in panic. With over 50 guests and other staffers, Govind remained holed up in the restaurant, which had downed its shutters.

“We did not eat for two days, we survived on water,” he says.

Through two days, unsure of what was happening outside, they huddled inside, speaking in whispers, petrified that any sound could send a hand-grenade their way. All this while, they could hear intermittent explosions and gunfire from the Taj. Govind’s father had arrived by then, behind the police barricades not far from the restaurant, and on the phone with him. Both were unsure whether he would make it out alive.

Eventually, when he was rescued by police and driven back home to Thane, 42 km away, Govind was quiet. Once he reached his one-bedroom flat, he asked his parents to shut all doors and windows, certain that terrorists could arrive any time. And that marked the onset of the nightmares that Govind would battle for the next six years.

“I felt depressed. I could not go to public spaces,” he says. His wife left soon after the diagnosis, when his son Rajeev was just two years old. The divorce came through in 2014. “Rajeev must be 10 now. We don’t even know how he looks,” says Kundan Kathayat, Govind’s father.

Govind Singh Kathayat at his residence in Thane. Admitted to Thane Mental hospital eight times for treatment, Govind says he hasn’t seen his son in six years. Express Photo/Amit Chakravarty Govind Singh Kathayat at his residence in Thane. Admitted to Thane Mental hospital eight times for treatment, Govind says he hasn’t seen his son in six years. Express Photo/Amit Chakravarty

Kundan took his son to psychiatrists, saints, dargahs and remote villages looking for miracle cures.

But change was late in coming.

Between 2008 and 2014, Govind was admitted to the Thane hospital eight times, once for six months at a stretch. He says he was given electric-shock therapy multiple times. “Those six years pushed me 10 years back in life. I thought it was better to die. But now I want to live,” he says.

According to former superintendent of Thane Mental Hospital, Dr Rajendra Shirsath, Govind was first admitted as an advanced case of schizophrenia. He would befriend very few patients, choosing to remain silent and focus on occupational therapy.

He is still on medication, but has not had to return to hospital since 2014. “He is finally becoming his old self. We had prayed for this day,” says Bhagirathi, Govind’s mother.

Govind with his parents and nephew in Thane. Express Photo/Amit Chakravarty Govind with his parents and nephew in Thane. Express Photo/Amit Chakravarty

From a depressed man who attempted suicide — he slit his wrists once, tried to drink whiskey laced with insect repellant another time — to a man excited to go to work, make friends, get married again, Govind has come a long way. “I want to marry again. My parents are looking for a suitable match in Nainital, our native city. I want to settle down, keep them happy,” he says, smiling from behind thick glasses.

It has been difficult on the family, too. “We have seen him battle his fears,” says Kundan, a retired Navy employee.

At his job, Govind supervises nearly 60 people. He smiles a little more now. “That is my story of strength. I want to give back to all those who stood by me in those years,” he says.

‘The bullet went through my leg, wallet. It's my second lease of life’‘He can’t move and talk but has got his memory back, can’t thank life enough’