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Security In Mumbai: An Impossible Task?

A bullet hole in the second floor of the Re-Fresh cafe at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station in Mumbai, where the terror attacks began.
Andrea Hsu/NPR
A bullet hole in the second floor of the Re-Fresh cafe at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station in Mumbai, where the terror attacks began.

Among the many images that haunt the mind in the aftermath of the Mumbai massacres, one stands out: a grainy photo of two clean-shaven men with neat, short hair.

They're entering a railway station where they will slaughter dozens of people. Each has an automatic rifle in his right hand. They're smartly dressed, and one has a blue backpack. They appear to be walking.

They look fresh-faced and very young; they could almost be students.

Shots Through The Window

Fongin Fernandes manages a restaurant at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station — or CST, as many here call it.

Last Wednesday night, Fernandes saw the gunmen coolly open fire.

"The shots were coming, and suddenly we've seen two guys standing there," Fernandes recalls. They were less than 20 yards away. "One had a jacket, the other one was quite heavily built, but the other was a lean guy. They were young, what, about 22 years old."

The bullets flew through Fernandes' restaurant.

"I got little glass splinters in my hair, and my pocket was full of glass powder," Fernandes says. He told his customers to crawl on the floor to safety.

Officials in India now say only 10 gunmen took part in the onslaught on Mumbai. They're trying to figure out how so few managed to kill so many. Who was the mastermind? Where did the gunmen come from?

There are reports here that the militants arrived in the waters off Mumbai in a hijacked trawler. The Indian media is broadcasting pictures of the body of a man lying facedown, with his hands tied.

They say this was the trawler captain and allege that his vessel carried the gunmen from Pakistan.

Today, Mumbai's CST station is returning to normal.

Coming Back To Life

Nowhere is better proof of the ability of the city of Mumbai and India to rebound after a massive attack. This is just a couple of days after it happened, and already a railway terminal — one of the busiest in the world — is getting back to business.

The snack bars are open, and there are lines at the ticket terminals again. A small crowd of women in brightly colored saris smiles and chats. But you can tell there has been a serious incident here.

The clue to that is the number of police officers and security forces stationed around the terminal. They're carrying automatic weapons, and there are a lot of them. Some of them are positioned behind sandbags.

Yet this railway station is as vulnerable as ever as passengers walk in carrying bags without being checked.

"We have to clearly blame the government for this," says Pravin Gupta, a customer in Fernandes' restaurant. "What happened here could have been avoided."

Gupta is a consultant for hotels and airlines. Security is part of his work. He travels through this station regularly and isn't impressed.

"We have about 106 police personnel at any given time at the station. And all they're interested in is when the bosses come up and down, they're at attention with the carbine," Gupta says. "And when he goes away, they're not bothered. They have so many screening metal detector machines. Have you seen anybody using them? I mean, they're just for namesake, totally symbolic."

In the past few days, attention has been focused on two besieged five-star hotels frequented by foreigners and the Indian elite. Gupta says other victims are being forgotten.

"Today, people are talking about Taj and Oberoi, but so many people died here. Is anyone talking about them? If you look at the death toll, only 22 Westerners [died] here. The death toll among Indians was much higher," Gupta says. "They were targeting anyone."

He's sitting about three inches from a bullet hole in Fernandes' window. Despite the danger he warns of, he's not worried. "It's destiny, basically," he says. "If I have to die, I could die anywhere. I've been here so often, and it's just destiny I was not here that day. One of my friends got shot down. He's on a ventilator at Bombay Hospital. It's just destiny."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.