Each time Wasim Parvez steps out of home for work or leisure, he knows he has left behind a trail of anxiety. “The moment I have reached my destination, or say an hour has passed, I call my mother to reassure her I am safe,” he says. It’s the memory of a deserted dawn that dogs Wasim and his family. He was a 17-year-old when he had stepped out with his anxious mother at 4.30 am on November 27, 2008 to look for his father, Rehmatullah Ali. The night before, on television, at his home in Mankhurd, Mumbai, he had watched the glittering Taj Mahal Hotel — where Ali worked as the head waiter of coffee shop Shamiana, and where the children would be taken for special treats — come under siege.
Twelve hours later, after a crazed search, Wasim identified his father’s body at Bombay Hospital. “He had the scar of an appendix operation. That’s how I had to identify him,” he says. Ali had emerged from the kitchen when one of the gunmen fired and killed him, according to an account by writers Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott Clark in their book The Siege.
Like scattered iron filings to a magnet, in these nine years, the family — three brothers and a sister – has rearranged themselves around their mother, Khurshid Begum. “Ammi has been our biggest strength. She has held us together,” says Wasim, now 27 years old. “My elder brother lives in Chennai and calls her at least 4-5 times. We fell back on ourselves after my father’s death,” he says.
But they never returned to the city where they suffered this grievous loss. “Bombay ki yaad toh aati hai. (Of course, I think often of Bombay). We spent all our lives there — in Andheri, in Chembur, in Mankhurd — but it hurts to go back,” says Khurshid.
“We spent a few years in Chennai, and now we are in Bengaluru. Aise hi bikhar jaate hai haadse mein. This is how a tragedy scatters you,” says the woman in her fifties, when The Indian Express meets her at her home in Bengaluru. It is a modest but well-tended house. From the beautiful Islamic calligraphy on the walls to the line of verdant plants in the balcony outside, it reveals not a family broken by a tragedy, but one trying to emerge from it.
“A lot of help came from the Taj. And we are ever grateful for it,” says Khurshid. After the attack, both Wasim and his elder brother, Kalimullah, were offered jobs in Taj hotels. While the latter works at Taj Coromandel in Chennai, Wasim left his job a year ago, and hasn’t found employment since. “I drive for the Uber sometimes, but I am hoping Taj takes me back again,” he says, as he hesitantly looks at his mother.
The youngest son, Salim Tabrez, is employed at the human relations department of Taj Bengaluru. He was, says Khurshid, his father’s darling. “Our mother didn’t let us feel the lack of anything. But I remember Abba a lot, how he carried me on his shoulders, the way he would clasp my hand in his,” says Salim, 25.
“Did the killers know the innocent men and women who were gunned down? Did the murdered know why they were being killed? Then what was the purpose of all this?” says Khurshid, fighting back tears. She remembers a husband who took great care of her. “He would say, I will do anything. I will never make you cry. In all these years, I have done all I could for my children but I had no one to turn to.”
“The people who did this do say they are Muslims. But I have read my Quran. That doesn’t teach anyone to kill innocents. God willing, the killers will have to face their judgement,” says Salim.
“We can’t say that we have managed to recover from the blow. We are still struggling, in our own ways,” says Kalimullah over the phone. He has sought a transfer from the Taj to Bengaluru so that the family can be reunited. Only Salim looks forward to a day he might work at the Taj Mahal, Mumbai. “I know what happened. But I want to go back to Bombay.”