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They drove the commandos to the battleground

December 01, 2008 17:02 IST

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A little before midnight on Wednesday, Santosh Chakne, a bus driver with the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Service, was told he was on special duty. He had to take his bus to Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport (domestic) to pick up Army commandos and take them to the Taj Mahal hotel [Images] in south Mumbai.

It was only when he was waiting outside the airport that a phone call alerted him to the terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal hotel and at other places in Mumbai. Still, he was not too worried.

The NSG commandos arrived at 5 am and quietly filed into the buses. "We took them to the Taj and they went inside the hotel," he says matter-of-factly. "It was only later, when the firing started and the grenades burst, that we got scared. One of the commandoes, who was on my bus, told us to take shelter behind some trees at the far end, near the entrance to the Gateway. We'd duck and hide each time there was a loud sound."

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Santosh and his colleague Vilas Tarde waited near the Taj Mahal hotel for three days; they only left for their respective bus depots on Saturday evening. But first they had another job to do -- the Taj had been sanitised and they had to take the tired but happy NSG commandos back to the airport.

For the three days they were on the site, Santosh and Vilas would sleep in the bus whenever possible. "No one has come to relieve us, and we can't just abandon our buses," they say. They also insist they are not heroes, and again talk about how scared they were.

"Our families have been constantly calling us, begging us to drop everything and just come home. But how can we do that?" he says.

Asked if they would take on such dangerous duty again, they say without batting an eyelid, "Of course we would. It's our service to the nation."

Text & Video: Savera R Someshwar

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