Coming to terms with losing her father, Anjali stopped playing or asking for toys or chocolates.
Ten years after Mumbai experienced the terrifying terrorist attacks on 26/11, The Better India pays homage to the heroes who fought bravely that day and their efforts to rebuild afterwards. #IndiaRemembers
Wearing pink nail polish and some jewellery, Anjali Gupta might seem like a regular teenager. She wanted to be a singer. Since this dream would need “time and luck”, she has now set more “realistic” ambitions for herself—to become an engineer, ease her mother’s financial burden and support her little sister.
She wasn’t always such a precocious child though.
“Earlier, my life revolved around toys and studies,” she said, while speaking to The Indian Express earlier this month. She continues, “After his death, my priorities changed, to studies and my career.”
The loss she refers to is that of her father, Vinod.
November 26, 2008, would have been any other ordinary day for this family and scores of others. But by nightfall, it became an unforgettable one for them and the nation.
Vinod Gupta was a mechanic in a garage. He was merely dropping off his mother Malathidevi at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus before he was gunned down in the attacks.
A bullet pierced his heart and his family’s lives changed forever.
Coming to terms with losing her father, Anjali stopped playing or asking for toys or chocolates. Contemplating her career options, she told IE, “During that period, I realised I have become the man of the house.”
She was only seven at the time.
Her little sister, Nikita, was barely a year old. She doesn’t remember her father. It was Anjali who told her about him. She says, “We feel bad seeing the fathers of other children. But now, we are used to it.”
A supportive elder sister, Anjali has vowed to help Nikita in becoming a football player. She tells the publication, “I will earn enough to let Nikita do whatever she wants in life. Khud ko daba kar isko uthana hai. (I will put her needs before mine.)”
Losing Vinod to the attacks also changed life for Savitri, Anjali’s mother. She had to raise two little girls and also run the family. Since she did not have the basic qualification of a matriculation, it wasn’t easy for her to find a job to support herself and her daughters. She moved back to her parents’ home and accepted the Group D job given to her by the Railways, even though it meant menial work.
She signed up for night classes and persevered at her job for years. Competing with thousands of other eligible candidates and failing the departmental test thrice, in 2017, she was finally promoted as a diesel mechanic.
A devoted daughter, Anjali helped her mother through her various attempts, who she says, was “a quick learner”.
She recalls, “She solved Mathematics, spoke English and remembered history lessons as easily as a child can. She had only studied till Class 7 earlier. Now, she’s completed her education till Class 11.”
Sharing her struggles with Neha Kulkarni for The Indian Express’ book, 26/11: Stories of Strength, Savitri says, “I have worked as a cleaner, worked with heavy tools and machines in my shed. Once, a kind senior section engineer praised my performance, asking me if I had been a sportswoman. He could not believe that I could paint a coach, open its screws and then also put it back in no time with such ease. Such compliments encouraged me to live life.”
Savitri is now trying to complete Class 12, to become eligible for another promotion in the Central Railways.
According to Mid-Day, the support from Girgaum-based organisation Ratna Nidhi Charitable Trust (RNCT) was helpful to Savitri and families like theirs torn by the attacks. In their 2016 campaign titled ‘Re-building the lives of kids of Mumbai Terror attack victims’, RNCT raised funds for the education of five children, Anjali Gupta being one of the recipients.
Anjali is now busy with college and coaching classes, all set to become an engineer.
The terror attacks ten years ago changed the fate of this family, like countless others. But they have refused to be scarred by the losses or be defined by their misfortunes.
Picking up the pieces of their lives, they inspire us all with their strength and determination in rebuilding themselves and those who depend on them.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)
Featured image: Alan Taylor, The Big Picture