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'I just wanted to get out of that hell'

Indrani Roy Mitra in Kolkata | November 30, 2008 17:41 IST

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Fact is stranger than fiction. And no one knows the cliched adage better than Sudipto Sarkar [Images], a barrister at the Calcutta high court.

After spending 36 nightmarish hours in room 2806 at the Oberoi-Trident hotel, Sarkar was rescued by the National Security Guard commandos on Friday.

He took the next available flight to Kolkata.

"Home feels like heaven," he said.

Sarkar, whose wife Malobika is a professor at Jadavpur University, is busy nursing the injury that the incident has left on him.

He does not want to be interviewed, least of all photographed. All he wants to do now is pick up the threads of normal life.

"It's a terrible memory that both of us want to erase from our minds," say the couple.

The night of terror

A case had brought Sarkar to Mumbai. On the night of November 26, he had just finished dinner and was taking a stroll with some guests on the 28th floor club lounge when he heard gunshots and some commotion, followed by blasts.

He peeped out of the window and saw thick clouds of smoke. He rushed back to his room and locked himself in.

Soon he was informed by a hotel employee that there has been a terrorist attack and that he should not venture out of his room. Sarkar heeded the advice and prayed in silence. His only connection with the world outside being his cell phone.

He informed his wife about the incident. She switched on the television and told him there had been an orchestrated terrorist attack.

His wife lent him courage

For the next two days, Malobika helped Sarkar keep his spirits up. She gave him as much pep talk as necessary and asked him to 'lie low and stay quiet'.

The couple discussed in whispers the strategy to adopt. He turned off the lights in the room, kept the television mute.

To give an impression that his room was unoccupied, he even drew the curtains apart. What if the terrorists checked the booking register? Sarkar just hoped, desperately so, that they did not.

The silence was deafening

The silence in room 2806 was deafeningly ripped apart now and then by a loud blast of grenade or the rat-a-tat-a-tat of an automatic gun. Sarkar's heart mouthed silent prayers, again and again.

On Thursday morning, the television went blank and Malobika informed him that NSG commandos had entered the hotel.

There was electricity in Sarkar's room so that he could charge his cellphone, his only lifeline for the moment.

He ate biscuits from the room's mini-bar and drank water from the toilet tap. 'I should not give in to panic,' he told himself constantly. Each minute seemed an eternity.

"It is a bad dream and will get over soon, I consoled myself. Then I heard another round of gunfire and deadly blasts."

"The day dragged on and I spent it alone, praying, shuddering at times and talking to my wife. I had lost count of hours and minutes. I did not want to look at the watch. Time, for me, stood still.

"Which part of day was it? It did not matter. I just wanted to get out of 'that hell'.

"Another long, long night passed.

Friday stood for freedom

A forceful battle of strengths announced Friday morning. The gunbattles and blasts had a note of finality in them.

"Was it coming to a close? I could not be sure."

Around 10.30 am, Sarkar got a call from Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, managing director, Eastern India Hotels. Mukherjee assured him that help was on the way.

A while after there was a knock on the door. And through the magic eye, Sarkar saw two masked commandos with a hotel executive. Sarkar opened the door, much to his relief.

'Go, go, go'

The commandos guided Sarkar into the sole lift that was working along with two other guests -- two women from the US.

"The moment the lift reached the lobby and the door opened, the commandos screamed, 'go, go, go,' and we scurried out."

"The lobby was empty, but stained with blood. A shiver ran down my spine. The blood could well have been mine."

"Thank god for granting me a second life."

Postscript

The cowardly act of terror has not dented Sarkar's strength a wee bit. He will be as mobile as ever and will pay as many visits to Mumbai as he has all these years.

And like always, he will stay at the Oberoi-Trident.






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