Keep your eyes and ears always open, says 26/11 hero Sebastian D’Souza

Mumbai: “Keep your eyes and ears open always. You never know what’s coming. Nobody can tell what’s going to happen next so put your heart, mind and soul in everything that you do,” exclaims Sebastian D’Souza, the photojournalist who captured terrorists Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail at CST station, Mumbai on the petrifying evening of 26/11.

Sebastian D’souza known as Saby, a photojournalist at Mumbai Mirror, was a prime witness who had identified Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab and testified in court. After eight years of the incident, Saby recollects, “I still remember Kasab’s face in the courtroom; a young chap who had no idea of what he had done. When Kasab looked at the photos that I submitted to his lawyer, he was cold for he knew that his death was nigh.”

Saby took over 100 pictures of Kasab and Ismail at CST station and submitted around 30 to the court which portrayed the two terrorists. He states, “At one point I was standing in the compartment of an empty local at CST and the terrorists were just outside the compartment. I had to literally stop breathing so that they couldn’t hear me as the whole railway station was deserted and everything was quiet.”

Planning to return home or probably go for a couple of drinks just like any other day after work from his Times of India office on November 26, 2008, Saby heard  some gunfire and thus rushed to CST. He says, “I heard some firing at CST but when I reached there the whole station was deserted. I saw two young guys with guns in their hands so I decided to hide in the empty train. I played hide and seek with the terrorists for I didn’t want to lose them. Suddenly, I saw a man, bookshop owner Chandulal Tandel, being shot by the terrorist and falling to the ground. It was so fast that I couldn’t understand when the bullet had hit him. I was scared.”

He won the World Press Photo Award in 2009 for the picture of Ajmal Kasab with an AK-47 at CST. However, there is a flip side to his story. Sebastian D’souza, now 64, lives in his hometown Goa with his wife Rosy D’souza. He says, “I don’t want anything from the government. I don’t wish any help in kind or cash from the authorities. God bless them and may they do good work.”

What has irked Saby? A man who risked his life for the nation has been denied the allowance of a house which was sanctioned to him. He explains, “In 2010, I had approached the then chief minister of Mumbai Ashok Chavan for a house as I was living on rent at Dadar. Chavan granted me a flat in Angelica Park at Thane but the lower officials delayed my proceedings. The owner of the plot Kunal Pravinchandra Gala (Hemal Builders) refused to make the house agreement as he had connections with all the higher officials.”

Saby approached the builders and also the government for help but the officials kept delaying his process for one and a half year. He also paid a house registration amount to the bank but didn’t receive any response from the builder. The flat is still lying unused as it is broken now and the watchmen use it as a toilet. The builder couldn’t sell the house so he just kept it idle but didn’t give it to Saby. He says, “The builder was very abusive when I spoke to him. He didn’t listen to me at all and was adamant throughout. I didn’t know what to do so after a long struggle I moved to Goa in 2012, post my retirement.”

In 1994, Saby had approached NCP chief Sharad Pawar for a house but again the officials had made him wait, saying that the process would take time. Tired of the government’s games, Saby says, “God bless the builder and the ministers playing the game and pocketing money. Not one minister is good, everybody is corrupt and want their own share. I don’t want any connection with the government.”

Owing everything to God’s grace, Saby still considers his escape and success in taking the pictures as a good fortune. Today, he lives a life in Goa passing his time painting, cooking and clicking pictures according to his mood swings. “In my entire career, Gujarat riots of 1969 due to the communal violence between Hindus and Muslims is the worst thing I have ever encountered. The politicians had given a free hand to the locals to kill people. When I informed the police about the killing of Muslims, the police turned their back and told me ‘We are told not to look’,” he says.

Today on the occasion of 26/11, when the whole city mourns, Saby encourages every citizen of India and the world, “Be aware all the time. You don’t know what lies ahead of you so be courageous and be prepared.”

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