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Some tips from someone caught in the Mumbai terror attacks

December 4, 2008

The following message was sent to us by an old friend by the name of Rahul Welde who works in Unilever Ltd. As the subject of his email says, he is Lucky to have survived. What I liked about it was that Rahul gives some concrete and useful suggestions. In fact the DNA has also published his survivor story.

So here it is, his story, with his permission to share it with my readers. He begins thus:

I want you to know that this is NOT a mindless forward but a straight message from someone you’ve known.

I wont go much into details of what happened that night. To cut the long story short – I was holed up in my room at the Taj hotel the fateful night of the terrorist attack. Managed to escape by the skin of my teeth at around 4 am – in sheer denial of allowing fire and smoke to swallow me. By gods grace I managed to make the run down 6 floors and some few metres without the devil in my way. You can imagine how happy I am to be here typing this away. ( For anyone who wants to know the gore – let me know. I have the full story and transcripts of my SMSes recorded for posterity – to keep my anger burning and reminding me of my purpose)

I thought I’d leave a few messages which might be of help to all good people.

In the modern day world, risks are a plenty. Terrorists, tsnunamis, earthquakes – the list can go on. None of these check on your profile, company, religion, class or seniority when they hit. They just hit. And we know now it can happen anywhere. Here are a few things we could all do to keep it safer and better. Firstly, value your family and friends. Two things I strongly recommend you check on

  1. Make sure you are covered well by insurance. Even if you are well off – leave them better off if the unfortunate were to happen
  2. Let them know details on things like bank accounts, investments etc. Keep a folio with your spouse and close family
  3. Use every waking moment to cherish what you have – family, friends, nature. Stay smiling, laughing and caring.

Admittedly these aren’t things I thought about deeply till now. I shudder at the thought of what if. Lets move from the philosophical to the more practical. There are a few lessons that I want to share:

  1. When in a hotel or a new place – please NOTE where the FIRE EXIT is. The fire exit route saved my life. I had no clue of where it was and why I ran where I did. Why I turned left or right. Providential escape for me – nothing more. I’ve stayed in hotels for years and don’t remember ever paying attention to this. Its a few seconds invested that can save you from big trouble.
  2. Insist on taking a room in the outer periphery – where the fire brigade can reach you. My room was on the inside and I tell you what – there was no chance the fire brigade would ever reach me. They would have always been a few yards but several hours away. Ever thought of this detail.
  3. A key item on your survival kit is your cellphone. I give it to Apple for developing the Iphone – a real smart gadget. Whatever your phone – a critical checkpoint is battery life. Often we wait for battery to go down before charging. Don’t! Keep it full charge all the time. All the SMSes saved my senses and maybe even my life.
  4. I learnt for the first time that when running through fire and/or smoke – run bending down and wrap a wet blanket around. I did that thanks to a friend who advised me. Its a different story I chucked the blanket thinking that the cops would gun me down mistaking me for a terrorist. Good tip nevertheless.
  5. Don’t miss the aspect of staying fit – in running shape. Can help you and maybe even you can help someone.

Last few days I have heard/read a lot about peace marches and candles and politician bashing and police bashing and whatever else. I am sure a lot of energy will go in all that. Having been there I can only say that every soul – the cop, the fireman, the medico and even the common man on the street was doing the best he could. I don’t blame anyone. I am sure good will prevail over evil in the long term. The short term blips we cannot avoid.

I have a lot to say and yet not much more. God is the greatest and leads to the ultimate destiny. I am thankful for all that has been and all that there is now.

Happy to be writing to you and wishes you and the family best for times ahead.

Am sure we will be in touch. Till then.

Regards

Rahul

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33 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2008 2:52 pm

    Nita – It is really an informative post in this context.
    Though in my office also, facilities team are sending some mails stating the precaution steps to rescue ourselves in such a panic situation, The consolidated and concrete tips from the people like Rahul, who has seen and sensed the tragedy will definitely help us. Thanks for sharing. When I am going through the tips I realized the gaps we generally maintain in few personal things even with our loved ones. Let’s keep all these things in mind to make our mind stronger and to be fit to face any of such situations.
    BTW if you can post a complete story on Rahul’s feelings that tragic night that may also help us to better understand the ground reality.

  2. December 4, 2008 3:01 pm

    Hello Nita,
    Came to make sure you were still blogging…as per, you are ok.

    I have no comments on what is posted above. They are helpful tips for any crisis situation. I am more concerned with this recent wave of violence directed at innocent people. If one has a cause, how does murdering people who have no idea what is going on promote empathy for your movement…?

    How did we get to this point?

    I still plan to own a home in India though, no matter what is happening…

  3. December 4, 2008 3:16 pm

    Hmm. I can feel his pain. Very understandable.

  4. December 4, 2008 3:27 pm

    I am going to follow all that he has said here. One never knows what might befall someone in this date!

  5. December 4, 2008 4:24 pm

    Nita, when I first joined my company [oil company and u can imagine the risks involevd]…exactly these were the things they told us….being a young girl just out of college, i sometimes laughed when they said a few things that this is common sense….its just an year for me in work now and I am sure its instilled in my brain and automatically check all this stuff….and i really dont feel I would end up in a life risking situation coz somehow i feel, i can escape and if i cant then everything is in place except that i wont be there! Few of my friends say i am being paranoid and over cautious….but i dont feel that!….i dont feel i am risking my life in anyways neither am i being paranoid that something will go wrong…… and am not being adventurous or outrageous….they have just taught me how 2 take care of myself!!

    And I was a person early this year not believing in that but now I recommend it!!

    PS: Its much different situation from terrorist attacking you….but it helps believe me!

  6. December 4, 2008 4:42 pm

    hi nita,

    That was a real different and useful stuff you have shared here.. No one can imagine such a situation unless they have faced it in person.But the tips would be really helpful at times of crisis and I would like to remind you that we should always have a bag ready-filled with torch, first-aid, some non-perishable food and all most necessary things to combat natural calamities. An advt says it all which they telecast in Doordarshan made by the National Disaster control authority of India.

    -Aiz.

  7. Joss permalink
    December 4, 2008 5:27 pm

    Yes, cherish your family while you have them and all is going well. That is advice that came through on Aamir Khan’s blog and also Karan Johar’s. And keep your cellphone charged up so you can speak to them in any emergency. Disasters of all kinds strike us all in life. It is not just terrorist attacks we should be ready for.

  8. December 4, 2008 6:06 pm

    Useful tips that have been shared by you, Nita. There is one other that i keep hearing on TV and reading in newspapers from other survivors: “When the terrorists shot at us i saw the guy next to me was hit and fell down, I too fell down and pretended to have been killed”

    In such circumstances; play possum! Some of them lay in that state for hours, though!

  9. December 4, 2008 6:11 pm

    I fully agree with all that he said, except for the bit about God, etc!
    I also believe that don’t ever worry about the things you cannot control. Terrorist activities would be one such thing, I guess, except that we can put the heat on Governments to get smart.

  10. December 4, 2008 6:14 pm

    Gosh Nita God bless him. This is going to haunt him forever .. makes me realise how our lives have changed. Very practical tips, can sense he’s been through hell. I hope this attack takes us to a better India. And I hope this does not lead to a madness of war, we seem to forget we are Nuclear powers.
    Do you think a war is the answer?

    You have asked me a difficult question. Something tells me it is, and something tells me it isn’t. I need to think a lot more about this. – Nita.

  11. December 4, 2008 6:35 pm

    Amazing post! Thank you so much! I’ve never been in such a situation before (and I hope I’ll never be, either) but I guess it’s about time people start talking about surviving terrorist attacks in the same vein as surviving earthquakes! :/

  12. December 4, 2008 6:39 pm

    @ Nita : Your friend Rahul has written well. Although in most attacks on hotels till now the rooms on the facade of the building have taken the maximum damage because these terrorists have in the past usually deployed bombing as a method of attack. Inside rooms have done better. In this case they attack from within in a way this was the first.

    On an unrelated note one of my relatives has passed off and I went early in the morning to Punjab. The GT road seems to have been full of army convoys. Reminds of the time just after the parliament attacks. It seems we will witness some saber rattling again soon enough. Although the scale this time seems to be much smaller.

  13. December 4, 2008 6:40 pm

    And Ya….very nice piece of sharing ….and God Bless Him…..the tips tell how much tension and stress he had to undergo…..And hats off to his sensible way and understanding!

  14. wishtobeanon permalink
    December 4, 2008 7:18 pm

    Hi Nita, a very good post. It is very important to have a safety plan. Thanks for posting.

  15. December 4, 2008 10:17 pm

    I love the tips in the post as I like the concept of having an exit plan ready. I was wondering if we should create a will as there are a lot of benefits in creating a will, and we may be aware of the same, but we seldom create one for some reason.

  16. lallopallo permalink
    December 4, 2008 10:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing this information, Nita. I think everybody nowadays needs to do a crash course for such eventualities and perhaps govts should make it mandatory for all of us.
    But I also wonder that when such horrors happen, how many of us really have the courage to approach the whole situation calmly (as mentioned through the tips above) rather than panicking completely, which I suspect most people do.

  17. stud.boy99 permalink
    December 5, 2008 2:47 am

    @Princess Aiz
    “”..we should always have a bag ready-filled with torch, first-aid, some non-perishable food…””

    might be a good suggestion… but I think a terrorist might also be carrying a bag containing all those things.. what an irony..!!

  18. gauri permalink
    December 5, 2008 3:20 am

    I got goosebumps reading this :) What’s most noticeable is that the to-do list he mentions is something we all – including Rahul himself – have always known, but it’s interesting how its reality and cruciality hits when you actually live the situation yourself.

    Glad he came out unscathed.

    -g

  19. December 5, 2008 9:32 am

    Krishna, thanks. However Rahul is not keen to share all of the details on the blog.

    Catwalq, thanks for your concern. As to why innocents are targeted, put it down to a mixture of greed and evil. They get money and they are evil. Serial killers always target innocents.

    Trailblazer, I felt it too. And knowing him makes it all the more vivid.

    Aathira, Me too.

    Sahaja, thanks. I agree it is not paranoia, it is just being practical.

    Princess Aiz, such a box is a good idea, even to keep at home.

    Joss, anything can happen anytime, that is what we always knew but never really believed it, until now.

    Gopinath, I thought of that too. But one needs presence of mind at the time, as Lallopallo mentioned. The first reaction I guess for most people would be to flee, scream etc. I don’t know whether I would have been able to do this at such a time so hats off to those who kept calm and saved themselves.

    rambodoc, perhaps at such a time one thinks of God. Rahul is not a religious person.

    IndianHomemaker, I have replied to you in the comment itself almost immediately after you wrote that comment, because that is the burning question in my mind.

    Nikhil, life has changed, hasn’t it. :(

    Odzer, saber rattling is my worry. We need something long-term. Sorry to hear about the loss.

    wishtobeanon, you are welcome.

    Nandu, will is a must for everyone I think, and am planning to make one soon.

    Lallopallo, you are welcome. And true, one tends to react in panic. To remain calm at such times depends on the temperament and training of the person.

    Gauri, same thing with me. Got goosebumps! Funny, how terror is a day to day thing here now.

  20. December 5, 2008 6:24 pm

    Thanks for posting it here! :)

  21. December 6, 2008 5:52 am

    Nita, I like this post because it’s informative and tells us that we need to always be well-equipped and not take life for granted. I don’t think I’ll ever know how it feels. Nonetheless, great advise!

  22. Dinesh permalink
    December 6, 2008 8:10 am

    I am happy for rahul that he made it I am glad u shares this thank u so much
    .

  23. December 6, 2008 2:28 pm

    2 days ago I was typing a comment on this post and my internet got disconnected. Apparently a cable got cut in our area. Sadly now I have forgotten what was I writing. So all I would say is thanks for the tips Rahul.

  24. December 6, 2008 5:50 pm

    Great read.
    Thanks a ton Nita for sharing.

    -Nikhil

  25. December 6, 2008 11:13 pm

    Thanks Nita for sharing. Rahul has indeed shared useful pointers – things that most of us know but hardly follow… but its high time we do!

  26. December 6, 2008 11:29 pm

    It was a very informative post!
    I shudder to imagine what the guy must have gone through.

  27. December 7, 2008 1:42 am

    This is one of the best posts on this topic I saw… thanks for sharing it.

  28. December 7, 2008 9:03 am

    Sakhi, Ruhi, Dinesh, Nikhil, Cris, thanks and glad it was useful.

    Reema, happens to be off and on too. My internet connection (so-called broadband) is slow and at times just disappears. In fact that is one of the reasons why I find it difficult to be on the net, it takes too much time.

    Priti, isn’t it! I mean, we know somethings we need to do, but don’t because others often talk us out of them. They make you feel you are being paranoid! Maybe because they don’t do it, they don’t want others to do it either!

    Amit, me too. And he is a family man with two lovely kids who are still school-going.

  29. December 7, 2008 10:03 pm

    Nita,
    Rahul has given us so important things we should be aware of. Things he had mention are obvious, but most neglected or we say “Its still time.” While one never knows when time is.

  30. Santosh permalink
    December 8, 2008 5:40 pm

    Rahul has tried to brush up every Indian’s mind. Though knowing all obvious fact we tend to forget the importance of remembering them. Luxury is must but with all safety factors, it makes sense.

    Thanks to Rahul and wishing him all goodness of life in future.

    Thanks to you Nita. Accidently landed on your blog. Keep up with your wonderful work.

  31. Amee Gandhi permalink
    December 15, 2008 5:24 pm

    Very useful tips. I am planning to use these tips for internal communication for the team. Thanks a ton!

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  1. A survivor’s story at Blogbharti
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