26/11 is a red-lettered day in the minds of Mumbaikars and Indians in general. It was a day when the city was torn apart by violent terrorist attacks in which 174 people died and 300 were injured. One of the people who was critical in capturing and killing the terrorists was Lt. Colonel Sen (Retd.) from the NSG. He was the second in command (2IC) and played a vital role in coming up with a strategy to eliminate the terrorists. He is also an advisor and consultant for ZEE5 Original series The Siege: 26/11. He speaks to us about the challenges in his mission and his life after the mission.
Watch a trailer for the movie Hotel Mumbai also based on the Mumbai terror attacks streaming on ZEE5.
Int: First of all Sir, Thank you for your service. Great respect for you and the work you’ve done. Specifically with Operation Black Tornado on 26/11. What’s the reason behind naming the operation ‘Black Tornado’? How did that name come about?
Col. Sen: The name is actually decided by the headquarters. Whenever any army, NSG operation is launched, they are given a codename so everyone knows what is being said. 26/11 was a hybrid operation which was the first time multiple places were attacked in a metropolitan city. That’s probably why the name black tornado was given.
Int: Since you mention this was the first time this happened, did you have to come up with new or specific strategies to tackle the threat accordingly?
Col. Sen: The special forces are trained for this, so nothing surprises us but the challenges might be different. In our training we are trained to adapt to something new every time. Because something different will always come up even in the future.
Int: Did you share any stories from the operation with the actors which they were really impressed by?
Col. Sen: The whole operation itself was such a memorable experience. There was one funny incident when I was on the rooftop of Nariman House. There was a packet of biscuits thrown at us. The people of Bombay were so considerate they though we were fighting for so long we would need to eat something. When they threw it at us, I first thought it was a grenade and I was scared completely, only later I began to think it was funny.
Int: Did you really feel hungry since it was such a long operation?
Col. Sen: No, not really. When you are in the middle of the operation we are trained to not feel hunger or anything.
Int: Did you meet any of the survivors you saved? Which story affected you the most?
Col. Sen: I didn’t particularly meet anyone whom I saved. I did go to Chabad House once, met the present rabbi and shared some tragic moments with him over a cup of coffee.
Int: Did you visit any other places where these attacks happened?
Col. Sen: Yes, Yes… I’ve been to Chabad House. I’ve been to Taj. I ate dinner at Leopold once.
Int: How was that experience?
Col. Sen: (Laughs) It is great to see those places in a normal condition once again. Chabad House presented me with a coffee cup as a memorabilia with Leopold Cafe.
Watch the heartfelt tribute to the lives affected by the 26/11 attacks in the song ‘Bharat Salaam’
Int: 11 years after 26/11 do you feel we are better prepared for any future attacks?
Col. Sen: Yes, we are definitely much better prepared. New technology has come in, new equipments have come in. Even the police and administration are well-equipped and prepared. It was a surprise at that time because no one expected Mumbai to be attacked. Now, as a country, we are much more prepared.
Int: You’ve been involved with the NSG. What learnings did you take from this attack?
Col. Sen: Terrorism is a global problem. It is not country specific or religion specific anymore. Everybody in the world, all governments need to deal with it collectively, because it is not based on on one religion or one community.
Int: Since you say that it is not based on one religion. A lot of people, believe that terrorism stems from Islam extremists like Kasab who are brainwashed into doing such horrible deeds. What would you say to that?
Col. Sen: No, it is actually illiteracy and poverty which blinds people. The poor and illiterate are easily blinded to follow a wrong path. They are the ones who are easily misled to do the groundwork for the terror organisations. The real problems are the governments and organisations behind such attacks. They are the real culprits.
Int: The media played a controversial role in the 26/11 attacks. How do you feel about their involvement today?
Col. Sen: I was actually upset with the media because they hampered our operation. But now I’ve realised no one was prepared on how to deal with the attack. I guess even the media didn’t know how to properly cover an attack of that scale. Things have improved much now for sure.
Int: How do you plan on commemorating or remembering the martyrs of 26/11?
Col. Sen: In NSG, we usually meet and sit together on 26/11. We have a few drinks and discuss memories of the past. That’s how the martyrs would like to be remembered as well.
Watch out for the series The State Of Siege: 26/11 in which he has been a consultant and advisor. Meanwhile, watch the movie Uri, The Surgical Strike, streaming on ZEE5.