In the lanes around her home in the Ambedkar Nagar slum in Cuffe Parade, South Mumbai, she’s known as Goli. Sometimes, mockingly, neighbours will call her ‘Chhabbis-gyarah’ or ‘AK-47’. But Tejaswini Shyamu Chauhan is most commonly known by the name she was half-jokingly given by a gynaecologist who delivered her on the night of November 26, 2008.
Her mother Viju Chauhan, 37, was already in the labour room when two terrorists attacked the Cama and Albless Hospital near St Xavier’s College. And when Tejaswini was born, at 10.50 pm that night, Pakistani gunmen Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail were on the landing of the stairway leading to the building terrace, lobbing grenades and holding off a team of policemen two floors below with sustained machine gun fire.
Now eight, Tejaswini has memorised the way Viju describes the night of her birth, having heard that tale countless times. “Dushman aaye the, goli maari sabko, tab mein paida hui (The enemy had arrived and was firing at everyone, that’s when I was born),” she says. Life for her parents has not changed much since. “We got media attention and met politicians for a year. But I am still a domestic help, my husband still a worker at Sassoon docks,” Viju says, without any regrets. She values the second life that they were given that night.
“A lot of people gave their lives for my daughter to be born safely. I want her to do something for the country… join the army or become an IAS officer,” says Viju. Tejaswini is now in Class III at the Little Flower of Jesus High School, Marine Lines. She loves drawing. She’s popular in the slum as a harmless troublemaker. But press further, and Ambedkar Nagar’s residents who live not far from Badhwar Park where the 10 terrorists made landfall, Goli is a constant reminder of goodness – a silver lining amid bloodshed.
Viju was watching the cricket match that evening, like everyone else, when she began to experience labour pains around 6 pm, says her husband Shyamu Chauhan (46). Viju was admitted to a ward on the hospital’s third floor. The doctor asked Shyamu to run out for some medicines around 10 pm, he remembers. He was stepping out of the ward when he heard gunshots and then spotted two guards lying dead below. “I ran and locked the third floor ward from inside,” Shyamu says.
The third floor ward had a labour room and delivery room connected by a common passage. In the ward, there were three doctors, two nurses, a ward boy and the entire Chauhan family. Shyamu, his brother and the ward boy stacked cots against the door. They made Viju lie on a mattress on the floor.
“There were screams to shut the door. I could hear the building shaking, but all I could do was lie helplessly. There was so much pain,” Viju remembers. She would bear the pain silently for the next 50 minutes, sweating profusely.
The doctors had kept only one tubelight switched on in the delivery room where Viju lay. Outside, Shyamu kept an iron rod ready, his four-year-old son Shashikant clinging to his father’s back, while a wordbook and other relatives stood alongside. “We had decided to attack whoever came inside. My back-up plan was to jump over the window to save my son if the terrorists overpowered us,” Shyamu says.
At 10.50 pm, Goli was born. Viju had not let out a single scream. “I don’t know whether it was out of fear of attracting attention or to show courage,” she says now. As if on cue, Goli too let out a whimper and settled down quietly. The doctors offered somebody’s packed dinner to Viju. She remembers drifting off to sleep, exhausted. At 1.30 am, a second woman was brought to the delivery room. “She kept screaming, and we all were scared the terrorists would hear her. The nurses told her to calm down, everyone was scared then,” says Viju.
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