There is a slight quiver in Vaishali Omble’s voice as she recalls the day when she lost her father, Tukaram Omble.
“It was around this time, mid-day. Papa told us that he would be back by the next morning. He told us not to worry. It has been a decade since he has been gone, but we miss him every day,” she begins, sitting inside her home at Worli Police Camp in Mumbai
Ten years ago, on the fateful dawn after 26th November 2008, assistant sub-inspector police officer Tukaram Omble took 40 bullets to himself while tackling Ajmal Kasab—the most notorious face of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
It was Omble’s intervention and hands-on tussle with Kasab that helped the authorities to capture him, though at the cost of his own precious life.
The government and the public have honoured Omble with awards and recognitions. He was awarded a posthumous Ashok Chakra and in Kedambe, his native village, his sacrifice is remembered every day through statues, gatherings and school lessons.
However, for his family back in Mumbai, there is an irreparable void in their lives. Festivities have evaded the household, and nothing can ever fill his absence in the lives of Vaishali, her siblings, Bharati, Vandana and Pavitra, and their mother.
A birthplace that worships him
As a young adult, Tukaram Omble once peddled fruits through the lanes of Kedambe. He joined the Indian Army, and after retiring as a naik, he landed the opportunity to don the khaki uniform for Mumbai police—the first person to achieve the honour in his village.
Ever since then, Kedambe fondly referred to their ‘Saglyancha Laadka’ as ‘hawaldar.’ In fact, following Omble’s footsteps, many more youngsters in Kedambe have signed up for a job in the police.
“We were born and brought up in Mumbai, so we could not associate with Kedambe much. But Papa loved to visit his village quite often. He has spent his entire childhood and youth there. He was always so courteous and friendly with everyone, especially the village kids,” shares Vaishali.
She adds that the family visits Kedambe quite frequently to teach young kids subjects like computers and English.
“Papa was our closest companion”
Vaishali, a teacher, and her younger sister Bharati, a sales tax officer, now live with their mother while two other sisters are married.
“When we lost Papa, Bharati and I were studying in college. He was our closest companion, and we would share everything about college life and studies with him. He was always our go-to person, no matter what issue was bothering us,” shares Vaishali.
“On weekends and holidays, I remember playing carrom with him,” she adds after a pause.
The final night
“We did not hear the news till late morning. The building knew, but they were too shocked and heartbroken to inform us.”
On 26th November 2008, Omble, the assistant sub-inspector at Girgaum Chowpatty, had returned home for lunch. He had night duty later that day, so he was preparing to head out for duty by late evening.
Half of Mumbai was already up in flames and under terror threat by then. But Omble kept on reassuring his family, especially Vaishali, that there would be no trouble in the Girgaum area.
“Papa always had this habit of keeping us away from his professional tension. Even if he was under a lot of pressure, he would never show that at home. He always kept a clear distinction between professional and personal life,” Vaishali says.
Even that day, Omble made sure to relieve his family of all worries. He went out by evening. Vaishali was the last one to talk to him on the phone, around 12:30 AM that night.
“We saw all the horrifying updates on news. I kept on calling Papa frequently, pleading him to return the earliest. I told him about the potential threats in his area. Around 12:30 AM, he told me some work had come up. He asked me not to worry and call so frequently,” mentions Vaishali.
He stood brave and tall
Towards morning, Kasab and a few of his accomplice terrorists arrived at Omble’s checkpost in a Skoda car. Omble stopped the vehicle and approached Kasab as soon as he disembarked.
Even though unarmed, he single-handedly attempted to tackle a heavily-armed Kasab, who then pretended to surrender. As soon as Omble approached nearer, Kasab bolted up and opened fire brutally on the 54-year-old policeman. Even with bullets pouring on him, Omble held still for a prolonged time, preventing the bullets from hitting any of his fellow policemen behind.
“In the morning, my sister told me that Papa had been admitted to the hospital following an encounter. I refuted her immediately, desperately hoping it was a rumour. I tried Papa’s phone again and again, but it came switched off. His office phone was also unreachable.”
Initially, the family had thought it was only one bullet and that Omble would make it eventually. But, soon, as relatives and police personnel started thronging their compound with their condolences, they knew it was too late.
A decade of heartbreak
While their lives changed forever after the unexpected tragedy, Vaishali credits the government for their support and mentions that it has kept its promise of keeping his payout intact until his official retirement.
“The police department is very helpful as well. They’re always just a call away, rushing to the spot if we face any problems ever.”
She falls silent for a while after expressing her gratitude for the authorities, and it is quite evident that the trauma of the day still haunts her quite often.
Tukaram Omble might be a martyr and hero for the nation, but even after a decade of heartbreak, his family waits for the arrival of the man who would return home after a long day of work and brighten up their lives.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)