New Delhi: MARCOS braveheart Praveen Teotia remembers 26/11..was 8 p.m. and the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea looked calm. Heading towards my naval base, I had one final look at the area. Some pigeons fluttered past, a policeman whistled and a hawker packed his belongings for the day. The neon-lit surrounding would now illuminate some late-night lovebirds, looking for their private space in this insomniac city. Life looked picturesque and undisturbed. Who would have known that an hour from then, death would spread its dirty tentacles, choking the life out of this picture? Who would have imagined that ten men from Pakistan would come sailing through the Arabian Sea in a small boat and would launch the most dastardly attack on the city? And hardly would have I imagined that a few hours from now, I will be facing these fidayeen, inside the Taj, eye to eye and my life would change forever,” MARCOS commando Praveen Kumar Teotia writes in “My Encounter With Terrorists That Night” (Rupa).
On the night of the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, Marine Commandos of the Indian Navy (MARCOS) entered the Taj, one of the places held captive by Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists. Their brief was simple – rescue the hostages and neutralize the attackers. Decorated with the Shaurya Chakra for his role in rescuing hostages, Praveen Kumar Teotia was one of the MARCOS who was leading his team, who fought the terrorists, suffered near-fatal injuries, and, in the end, saved more than 150 innocent lives. In this gripping, edge-of-the-seat thriller, Teotia narrates a minute-by-minute account of that deadly night, how his team entered the Taj, how he confronted the terrorists, and how he was nearly killed. Declared unfit for life, he fought back and became a marathon runner and the coveted IRONMAN title at the Triathlon Championships 2018 in South Africa. Teotia’s is a story of courage, conviction, and resurrection. Above all, this is the story of an Indian soldier.
Here is an excerpt:
“I lay there for a while, unconscious. Then all of a sudden, I woke up in extreme pain and agony. The pain was so acute that it made me conscious. Somewhere at the back of my neck, I could feel a burning sensation. Well… sensation would be an understatement. It felt as if my skin had been ripped apart and now the scorching heat was gradually eating my flesh. I managed to move my hand there to see if I could feel anything. As soon as I touched the spot where the ‘fire of hell’ had engulfed my neck, I felt something wet. It was warm, and as soon as I probed it, more of it came gushing out. I was soaked in my own blood. It was a headshot.
The bastards knew their job well. They had aimed at my head and wanted to finish me there and then. Fair enough! They were following their orders and I was at the receiving end of their gun. But they had not been completely successful and instead, the bullet had whizzed past my head, burn through the skin, and tear open the flesh.
It was still dark and my hands stretched for help. It was in vain. I could not find my buddy near me. He had fallen back. In fact, the entire team had fallen back in a fraction of a second. I was now alone in the room, injured and facing possible death. The terrorists had taken a headshot and since there was complete silence from my end, they thought that I was either dead or grievously injured. In such a scenario, I know the next thing an attacker would do. He would come close to the target and to double confirm his catch, would shoot at point-blank range. I had very little time left.
I had to quickly adapt my eyes to the darkness and look for cover. I was on the floor now and my back was towards the wall. I searched for my weapon and after a few painful and anxious minutes, I found the sling of my gun, which was around my neck. What a discovery it was! A gun is an extension of a soldier’s body, a part of his personality. Without it, a soldier is half dead. But now I was alive again. It gave me a renewed sense of confidence and at least a plan to work on. But whatever I had to do, it had to be done quickly and quietly.
Suddenly, a terrible spasm of pain started from near my left temple and overpowered my strength. I had never been in such pain. It felt like a thousand hammers were pounding my skull and molten lava had been poured inside my ear.
I tried touching my ear but couldn’t find it. There was no ear left. Just some tissues hanging and dripping blood. The pain made me want to cry my heart out as that would have eased this torture a bit, psychologically. But that would be a foolhardy thing to do. With all my strength, I clutched the carpet beneath me and with all the pressure I could muster, I clenched it. I was trying to neutralize all the pain with this forceful grip. It worked and I could at least think of planning my next move.
An injured man lying alone in an enemy’s catchment area and without any help could be a dead man soon. I knew this and had to do something quickly. My first aim was to find myself a cover. There was a sofa lying near me and there was some gap between the wall and sofa. This could be a perfect position, I told myself. Placing myself between the sofa and wall and positioning my weapon atop my thigh I was back again in the shooting position. My injury was near the head and ear-basically, above my heart. As we were taught during our training, the bleeding is always less when the injury is above the heart. If the bullet had hit me in the shoulder or stomach, it would have bled more and required immediate medical intervention. I knew that I could survive for some more time without any medical aid.
I did the next best thing. I started firing. Another burst of fire greeted me from the other side. Thankfully, this time I had cover. I was now changing the position of the gun, sometimes firing from the top of the sofa, sometimes from the left, and sometimes from the right side. This was only to confuse the terrorists and to manipulate them into thinking that there are two or more commandos in the room…
‘Bhagwanji, fix up my appointment. If I am alive after this, I will do a puja; if not, will meet you in person…’ These were the last words that would come out from my mouth for the time being. After this, it was all blank and dark,”.
Four bullets had ripped through his body; a lung was punctured; four ribs were shattered and splinters scattered all over his chest; doctors attending to him declared that his life had been cut short, that he could never swim or run. But he proved everyone wrong.