By Pankti Mehta Kadakia
It was about 9 pm on November 26, 2008. Muhammed Sajid Abdul Khalid, then 36, was on a motorcycle with a friend, heading towards Fountain for work concerning his perfume business. The streets were eerily bare; something seemed amiss. Initially unaware, Khalid and his friend couldn’t identify the firework-like sounds for what they were: shots being fired indiscriminately by a terrorist duo, at CST station.
The shots grew louder, as did the silence. Almost at the station, Khalid saw a huddle of policemen and media persons by the end of a bridge that leads commuters across the road from the station, via a staircase. Wild shouts of alarm arose from the policemen, who signaled Khalid and his friend to turn around, not go towards CST, where a carnage was underway. They joined the huddle to find safety in numbers.
After a few tense, terrified moments, their worst fears were realised. It was dark, the street lights were out, but the sound of gunshots drew closer, louder, more incessant. Suddenly, Khalid felt a sharp jerk in his thigh. He looked down to find his pants oozing blood. He had been shot.
“It all happened so fast, I didn’t realise what transpired until I saw the blood. The terrorists had made their way atop the bridge, and were shooting at us from above,” he says. “They had a vantage point, and we had little cover.”
Many of those around were spilling blood; others had fallen to the floor. Khalid found his friend with his head to the ground, fallen under the weight of another man who had taken a bullet. He saw Khalid, said he would rush him to the hospital, and tried to get back onto his motorcycle. He started it up, but his hand wouldn’t take the controls — it had been fractured under the weight. A stranger came to Khalid’s rescue, rushed him to Gokuldas Tejpal (GT) Hospital nearby.
“At GT Hospital, I saw a lot of dead bodies. They were already overloaded from those injured at CST, so it was impossible for me to find treatment there,” he says. “We went to Bombay Hospital then, where the doctors performed surgery on my thigh later that night.”
It was a flesh wound — the bullet went through the skin of Khalid’s thigh, but also through his pocket, and wallet, piercing through the notes and coins it contained. “I’ve kept them as memory of that night, and as a reminder that anything can happen, anywhere. It commemorates my second lease of life, a spot of luck from a very close encounter with death,” he says.
Khalid’s family was at their home at Mohammed Ali Road when the attacks were taking place outside. They had no idea that he had been shot until a few hours later — since Khalid was around media persons when the bullet hit, he was on the news as one of the victims of the attacks. A neighbour saw him on television, ran to his house, and gave his wife the news. His wife and mother, shocked, horrified and deeply worried, tracked him down at the hospital with the help of friends and relatives. He stayed there for the three days of the attacks, with little access to TV news, but constant updates from friends.
“I couldn’t believe that this was happening in Mumbai, my city,” he says. “Innocent people were being killed at some of the city’s most crowded spots. I was scared.”
It took almost four months for Khalid to make a full recovery, and flashes from that night would haunt him frequently, setting off shudders. “I can’t shake off the horrible images from that night. When anyone brings up 26/11, they come rushing back,” he says.
In the aftermath, it upsets Khalid that terrorism has been linked with Islam in debates since. “The terrorists are cowards, with no religion. They give Islam a bad name,” he says. “If there’s one thing I would tell the government, it is that it is their duty to unify people. Politicians must not divide the city based on religion.”