Nine-year-old Shaurya has only a vague understanding of how the armed forces work, and he wonders sometimes if he’s fast enough to outrun grenades. But that hasn’t deterred him from making up his mind to join the Indian Army, as a “Class One officer”, his father’s dream. Shaurya’s father, Mumbai Police constable Jaywant Patil, was martyred in the 26/11 attack, among those killed in a police vehicle in the Rang Bhavan lane along with top police officials. “I want to join the army. Because it protects our country,” he says without hesitation when asked about his career plans.
A Class IV student in Satara city, Shaurya was five months old at the time of the attacks, and is not yet completely familiar with the circumstances of his father’s death. Jaywant Patil, the bodyguard of late Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte, died along with Kamte, Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar that night.
But mother Pratibha, 38, elder sister Isha, 15, and grandparents Vimal and Shivaji Chaudhary have explained the basics. “I miss my father often, and when I think of him, I go to my bedroom and then chat with my mother about him,” he says.
Shaurya likes watching Discovery and History channels. “It increases my knowledge. And mummy has blocked the cartoon channels,” he says, reeling off names of world monuments, details of ancient weaponry and aquatic creatures that he’s been watching on TV. “I also like target games. When I’m bored I set up my dartboard and practise.”
Pratibha now manages the petrol pump allotted to her after the attacks, alongside her responsibilities as a single parent. “After 2008, we told her to learn things, how to deal with the children’s schools, how to run the petrol pump. We encouraged her to keep learning,” says Shivaji Chaudhary, Pratibha’s father.
“In 2009, I went for a one-month training for the petrol pump dealership and then slowly started learning new things in life,” says Pratibha. When the dealership was allotted in January 2010, she initially travelled 70 km daily to manage affairs at the fuel station. “There were several problems and crises, but we faced everything and always found a solution,” Pratibha says. She now visits the pump only two or three times a week.
She learnt to drive a car and then also how to ride a two-wheeler, “Isha told me all her friends’ parents dropped them to school in cars. I couldn’t even ride a bicycle then, but for my children I made sure I learnt how to drive,” says Pratibha, adding that she then also learnt to ride a scooter because it’s a handy skill in Satara town. “I was very timid. If someone tells Jaywant that his wife has now learnt to drive, he wouldn’t believe it.”
The family lived in Bhandup, in suburban Mumbai, earlier but left the city after the 26/11 attacks. Pratibha says they expect to relocate to Pune, where there are better prospects for the children’s education, but will definitely not return to Mumbai.
“There are memories attached to the Mumbai attacks, and also things keep happening in Mumbai, like that Elphinstone bridge stampede recently. I think Pune is a safe place to live,” says Pratibha.
The biggest challenge as a single parent has been decision-making. “Isha is in Class X, so I’m trying to gather information from various places before we decide on her higher education choices. We have to make sure we take the right decision and not commit any mistake that could affect her career,” she says. “My husband comes to me in my dreams to help with major decisions. We all feel that he’s right here with us.”
The children, she says, have been her biggest strength. “They are my motivation. My dream is to see my children excel in their streams and achieve something in life that will make us proud as parents. That was Jaywant’s dream, and I want to fulfil that,” she adds.
Her parents, who belong to Menoli village in Wai, Satara, have been splitting their time between their farmland and Pratibha’s apartment in the city. “We did so in order to be with her. Shaurya was very small when it happened, and raising the kids was a challenge. But we did not embrace grief, we kept finding a way to resolve every problem. Time is the only solution to overcome grief,” says Shivaji.