December 14, 2008 2:08:35 pm
A Muslim youth who worked for a Jewish couple, cooking orthodox kosher food for dozens of Jews each week, Zakir Hussain, or “Jackie” to the world, is still struggling to come to terms with the worst night of his life — the terror attack on the Chabad House Jewish centre in which his employers, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, were killed.
While the story of Sandra Samuels, the Holtzbergs’ nanny who was in the building and managed to escape with their two-year-old son Moshe, has made international headlines, the ordeal of Zakir Hussain, who shared her 13-hour ordeal standing between two refrigerators while intermittent firing continued, is little known. Zakir is in hiding on the advice of investigators.
Breaking his silence in a telephone interview to The Sunday Express, he said: “We never believed anybody could harm our saheb. I kept thinking that if those people wanted money, saheb would give it to them and ensure the safety of the guests, madam and Moshe.”
Zakir, 23, belongs to Banga, a small village in Badarpur, Assam, and came to Mumbai like lakhs of others, looking for a job and a better life. He started off as a helper in a grocery store until the opportunity to work for the Rabbi and his wife came up. So he learnt to cook kosher meals and became ‘Jackie’ for the hundreds of Jews who stopped by at Chabad House. Kosher food is food prepared as prescribed by Jewish dietary laws. It covers the kinds of meat that can be consumed, the method in which animals have to be butchered and cooked, and ingredients that can be used, among others.
Zakir developed a deep bond with “saheb and madam” who “taught me so much”, a bond so strong that he says he wants to go back to Chabad House when it re-opens.
That Wednesday night, having served a kosher dinner of chicken, bread, mixed vegetables and spaghetti, Zakir and Sandra were resting on the ground floor.
At 9.45 pm., they were just about to go up to the first-floor kitchen to stow leftovers in the fridge when they saw one terrorist firing. “We didn’t see the face, just the big gun. We realized there was something wrong. We just entered the first floor and banged the door shut. We rushed to the balcony and started shouting for help. The firing continued and we ran towards the store-room,” he says.
A moment after Zakir and Sandra entered the store-room and shut the door, a grenade shattered the door of the first floor. “They thought we died in that explosion, but we hid between two steel fridges, praying. Death was literally standing on the other side of the door,” he recalls.
They stood there for 13 hours, hearts pounding. In between, Sandra telephoned the watchman, who had stepped out for dinner, and asked him to inform the police. The firing continued through the night and into the morning, until there was a lull.
“We came out of the store-room at 11 am and saw the destruction, slowly making our way through the broken glass and pieces of concrete. We were near the stairs when we heard Moshe’s cries. Sandra and I then went up to the second floor. While she went in and picked up the baby from the room, I stood near the stairs,” he said. Baby in hand, the two fled the building, never looking back. Zakir, who identified the bodies of the hostages after the siege ended, is still trying to get over the nightmare. “I am just waiting for the Chabad center to be rebuilt. I will go back and work. I want to continue working there in memory of my saheb and madam who gave me so much.”
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