Exactly three months before the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, little Shubham Bhosale, then 14 months old, lost his mother to a bout of jaundice. Then, when terrorists opened fire in the lobby of the Oberoi Hotel on the night of 26/11, among the first to die was his father Sarjerao Bhosale, a security guard at the hotel.
Now 10 years old, seated outside his home in Kolhapur’s Nile village, 375 km from Mumbai, Shubham says he enjoys cricket and kabaddi, he’s an all-rounder on the cricket field, and his favourite subject in school is math. As he talks about school and his life in Nile, Shubham repeatedly refers to his father’s younger brother and his wife as ‘mummy’ and ‘papa’. The Class IV student says he wants to become an engineer.
“Overnight the child was without mother or father, and I’ve brought him up as my own son,” says Bajirao, 30, Sarjereo’s younger brother who tends to the family’s tiny agricultural land holding of eight gunthas or about a quarter of an acre and also works as an assistant in the local office of the Public Works Department. “We give in to his every demand, because we’re doubly careful that villagers should know we care for him as much as my own son.”
The family says Sarjerao’s death was more shocking because he’d lived with them in Nile during the three months since his wife’s death, returning to Mumbai only on November 20, resuming work only on November 24. “He was with us for three months and then four days after he left the village he was dead. I felt I had lost everything in life,” says Bajirao, who was then unmarried.
Sarjerao, in Mumbai since 2005, had been earlier posted as a private security guard near the Mumbai airport and at the passport office, being shifted to the Trident Hotel in 2007.
The first months after the attack were challenging, for the toddler had grown very attached to his father since his mother’s death. While Bajirao and his mother took on parenting responsibilities in the first years after the attacks, he and his wife became the legal guardians after his wedding in 2010. “He considers us his parents,” says Bajirao, who decided that he would himself have only one child. His son Harsh, now six years old, sees Shubham as his elder brother.
The boy hasn’t been told in any detail the circumstances of his father’s death in the 26/11 attacks. “But last month he came home asking if it was true that his father had been killed. The children playing with him were talking about it. I told him it’s not true,” says Kantabai, Shubham’s grandmother. But when Shubham persisted, she told him his father was in a place from where there’s no coming back.
Bajirao has also ensured that Shubham is enrolled in an English-medium school, as per his father’s wishes. “My dream is to do as much as possible for Shubham’s education, more than for my own son,” says the uncle, adding that the family sometimes struggles to cope with the expenses. “He is in a good school. Perhaps some support for his education will motivate him further, especially for higher education,” he hopes.
The last two or three years have seen Shubham grow more mature and silent. “We never miss our brother. Because in Shubham I see my brother, I feel he’s right here with us,” Bajirao says.