The Other Mumbai

A regular and welcome visitor to my RLF office at UEA last year, Anjali Joseph is working on her debut novel which will be awesome. Anjali introduced me to this Indian writer, RK Narayan, who is equal parts Just William and Graham Greene with a touch of Holden Caulfield and some added PG Wodehouse (I might be wrong about this last). I started with his short novel, The Batchelor of Arts, which is a fine book.

Here is a short dispatch from Mumbai, where Anjali is currently working. The full article will appear in Elle India later in the month. She has been out and about discovering these vignettes and stories about what went on while the terrorists were about their business. The word chhotu translates roughly to ‘boy’ or ‘little guy’ (chhotus are key in Narayan’s books).

When terrorist attacks devastated the city it was the quiet heroism of ordinary people that stood out, says Anjali Joseph:

Mohammed Shaikh, aka Chhotu, 26, tea-seller outside CST

Shaikh, who supplies tea to ticket office staff in the station, had gone to collect the day’s payments when the firing and first grenades were head. “I thought a bomb had gone off,” he said. He ran to the queue where people were waiting to buy long-distance tickets and chased those people out of the station. “I told them to run and made sure they got out.” Then he ran to the ticket office, where staff behind the glass window weren’t aware of exactly what was happening. “I made them all get on the floor and I shut the door. I remained looking through the window.” Shaikh’s bravery attracted the attention of one of the terrorists, who came to the window and shouted at him “in Hindi but a different type of Hindi, I couldn’t understand him,” he said. “He was young, clean-shaven, rather handsome,” the tea-seller added ruefully. When the firing was over, Shaikh went into the station and took four of the injured to the nearby St George’s Hospital. “There were bodies and blood everywhere and I started feeling sick. I found one man with a splinter of glass in his wind pipe; there were a lot of people at St George’s by then from both the station and Leopold attacks so I took this man to the railway hospital in Byculla in a taxi,” he said. At 4 am, he returned to his stall and opened it so that people waiting outside the hospital could get tea. Zende and Yadav came in for rewards from the Ministry of Railways; Shaikh said he’d also been told he might be rewarded but that he hadn’t gone to ask anyone about the possibility. “Anyone would have done what I did,” he said, and finally shook his head: “No one, in any country or city, should have to see the things we saw that night.”

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