The cold barrel of an AK-47 machine gun grazing his temple, Sharan Arasa’s eyes met those of his equally terrified friend. “I was sure he was going to shoot me and drive off. But he didn’t.”
On the night of 26/11, terrorists Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail had just emerged from a police Qualis with a flat tyre, and had yanked Arasa and two friends out of their car, not far from Mantralaya, the state government headquarters in South Mumbai.
Nobody has been able to explain why, but the two gunmen chose not to kill the occupants of the car they hijacked, the car that would be stopped at a police check-point ten minutes later, leading to Kasab’s capture.
“Every year, on 26/11, my friend and I call to wish each other a happy birthday. It’s funny when you look at it now, though it wasn’t then,” says Arasa, 35.
A very close friend who worked at the Oberoi was not answering his phone, and the worried trio — Arasa, a friend and the latter’s wife — decided to drive to South Mumbai. It was past midnight. They were driving on the completely deserted streets in Nariman Point, nearing Hotel Oberoi, when the Qualis came toward them from the opposite side, one wheel so flat that it was sparking as the metal disc ground against the tarmac. When two men emerged, for a few seconds, Arasa assumed they were policemen.
As they were pulled out, the first thought in Arasa’s mind was not that he was going to die. “I thought my dad’s going to be mad at me for losing the car —we’d just bought it a few months earlier.”
His friend and his wife backed up towards the pavement, he himself quickly walked to safety behind the car. Suddenly realising he still had the car keys, he threw them on the ground. It was when Kasab emerged from the passenger side and asked Arasa to bend and pick up the keys that the restaurateur was truly horrified.
Then, just like that, two terrorists who had just sprayed machine gun fire at a railway station and inside a hospital just got into Arasa’s car and drove away, in the direction of Marine Drive. “Seconds later, a police van came from behind.”
It would be only later, once they switched on the television at his friend’s Mahim flat, that they would realise the gravity of the situation — they had no way of knowing that their carjackers had just killed three prominent police officers, or that the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was the site of a bloody carnage.
“It was shocking to see my car later. It was a mess. I’m someone who loves my cars, and to see bullet holes and blood and tyres burst was really depressing. But we got it repaired and we moved on.”
Though it was a long time before he could really go back to life as it used to be, Arasa was clear he didn’t want his life to be defined by this one incident. He took a short vacation, put his life back on track, and is now soon to be married.
In 2013, he sold the car. Not because of bad memories, but simply because it was nearly six years old and it was time.
He says, “The one lesson I have learnt from that night was that you can’t sit and dwell on it. You’ve got to learn to move on. If you dwell on it those guys are just achieving the purpose they came out to achieve. They came to spread fear and if you’re still going to cower with fear after so many years then you’re just giving them a moral victory.”
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