The Bravehearts

The Bravehearts

At the Santos home in Mumbai,the doors are wide open,welcoming everyone as always.

Their murders have made Mumbai stop and grieve. Who were Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez? A couple of regular guys,who loved their bikes and the good life,and never turned away from a cause

At the Santos home in Mumbai,the doors are wide open,welcoming everyone as always. If Keenan had been alive,says his younger brother Sheldon,you would have found him lounging on the blue sofa,watching “Sanjay Dutt type of movies”,playing hockey for his parish or listening to love songs. He never got into more serious music,it was more Reuben’s thing,and they “both respected each other’s choices”. At Reuben Fernandez’s house,younger brother Benjamin tries to console his grieving parents.

Friends Keenan Santos (24) and Reuben Fernandez (29) paid for their lives on the night of October 20,when they stood up to a man who was sexually harassing their women friends,including Keenan’s girlfriend Priyanka Fernandez. The group of friends had stepped out of an Andheri restaurant after dinner,when Jeetendra Rana made his advances. Keenan and Reuben drove him away,but Rana returned with a gang of four men,all armed with choppers,and stabbed the two friends fatally. Keenan died that night,Reuben succumbed to his injuries on November 2.

The murders have made Mumbai,a city proud of its reputation as a safe space for women,stop,introspect and recoil. In Amboli,a largely Catholic neighbourhood where Keenan and Reuben lived,they are remembered as the best examples of “respectable gentlemen” who loved their bikes and dogs,never backed down from a good cause,or the chance to have fun,and were fiercely protective of their family and friends. Their deaths have rallied their friends to a cause. A team from the neighbourhood monitors the flood of messages on social networking sites,while another group of friends accompany Keenan’s fiancee Priyanka on her visits to the police station and media studios.


“Soon after the funeral,many of them just walked in and took belongings of Keenan,” says Santos’s 47-year-old mother Valerie. “It’s their way of holding on to him,his memory. We understand.

He was that close to everyone,” she says. She has kept for herself an orange T-shirt of her young son,one of his favourite wine bottles and his last gift to her,a rosary. “He would only eat if he was fed by me. He was childlike. His grand mum would complain,‘What man,can’t you eat on your own’. But he would never listen. I will miss that,” she says. She remembers him as very protective of his siblings,and says she was “not surprised” that he took on the men who attacked his friends without hesitation. “If somebody messed up with his friends or siblings,he would go all out to rescue them,” she says.

Having worked as a bartender,Keenan recently decided to take up a hospitality job in Dubai. Sheldon recalls an incident when his favourite bottle-opener was flicked by a senior manager. “At first Keenan thought he was just fooling with him. But with time,when the superior refused to return it after many pleas,Keenan just took it by force. He fought for the bottle-opener over his job. That is how he was. Very protective about his stuff and people,” says Sheldon,“no one could touch us or they would have it.”

A video CD compiled by his friends has “vanity images” of Keenan and Reuben clicking each other’s pictures on mobile phones at home,and talk in the neighbourhood,often veers to their legendary friendship. Both were involved in the campaign for the Lokpal Bill,and keenly aware of social and political events. Like many young men,they were passionate about bikes — Keenan’s first pet was called Bullet — and he would always be ready for a ride to Goa. He was the cocktail wizard,who would make exotic drinks at home for family and friends,while Reuben made chicken masala. “Years ago they had a fight,and did not speak to each other for the longest time. Then they sorted things out. But even then,they never spoke ill of each other and always showed respect. Even in death,they did the same. Reuben stood by him. He went for Keenan. He did not let him down,” says Sheldon,six years younger to Keenan.

Twenty-five-year-old Benjamin remembers brother Reuben as the attacking centre-forward of his school hockey team,whose dribbling skills were famous in his neighbourhood,and who showed similar spunk and spirit off the field. “Even when Keenan and he were being stabbed mercilessly,he was attacking the rogues,” Benjamin said on a Facebook post. “We decided to have a Facebook page as initially,it was just two boys who had been murdered. We wanted to tell the world what they stood for,” he says of the campaign for justice.

His favourite anecdote about his brother is how on a long bike ride,Reuben coaxed everyone to remove their shirts and jump into the river. “He lived in the moment,” says Benjamin,before he recalls how after a car accident in Goa,Reuben rushed his friends to a hospital — but did not let their spirits flag. “Once the medication was in process and things were sorted,he got beer for everyone. He kept saying you are not going to die,you are just badly injured. So you might as well chill.”

Like Keenan,Reuben too had found his niche this year. So while Keenan planned to go abroad,Reuben,a qualified mechanical engineer,was going to “go solo” this season with his first civil contract. “He would talk about it at home. The papers were all done and the project was to begin soon. He was very excited,” says Benjamin.

Between countless media interviews and a stream of visitors,Valerian Santos,52,has fought to remain calm. He recalls how he would always be by Keenan’s side when he would fall ill as a child,but couldn’t be with his son in his last moments. How he was an honest son,and a helpful one. “You give him money to run errands and he would return every paisa. He was a good son.” Valerian recalls how he would assist and visit senior citizens in the neighbourhood,and convince his father to help his alcoholic friends. “Once,I was scolding a couple of my friends saying that they had wasted their lives drinking. Keenan walked up to me after they were shooed away and tried to talk to me. ‘Dada,who else will they go to if not you?’,he said. ‘You are their friend. If you turn away then who will they go to?’ I had to give them some money,” says his father.

As they run through the events of his death,the distraught parents scan the past for a clue or a premonition to this senseless tragedy. “Keenan had returned from Goa just two days before his death. In a conversation with his grandmother,she mentioned that she was ageing and he’d have to throw mud on her coffin soon. He just smiled and said,‘Wait and watch,you will be doing that to my coffin’,” Valerie says. “Then once he pointed to the undertaker’s shop on the way back and said,‘Ma,one of these days you will have to pick one of these’.” Valerian Santos listens in silence,and slowly gives way to his tears. “I used to call him Bedu when he was a child. A few weeks ago,he walked up to me and asked me to call him that again. My son wanted to live and enjoy life. Looking at his pictures,I can say he lived life king-size,” he says.