Eight years after the gruesome terror attack that claimed 166 lives and left around 300 others injured, 36-year-old Ransley Santhumayor vividly remembers looking directly into the eyes of one of the terrorists and the AK-47 gun he trained on him at Cafe Leopold in Colaba seconds before he shot him in the leg. After several surgeries and a long recovery period, Santhumayor now leads a ‘normal’ life and embracing a positive attitude helped him cope with the long-lasting consequences of that fateful night.
Recounting his ordeal, Santhumayor said he, accompanied by a friend, had dropped in at Cafe Leopold on November 26 to grab a quick bite and a beer. “Usually, we would sit upstairs where the music would be playing. But unfortunately on that day we were in a hurry and decided to sit downstairs instead. Just minutes after we had placed our order, we heard a blast and we immediately hid behind the table. We thought perhaps a gang war had broken out or perhaps a lunatic was firing shots. It never crossed our minds that it could be a terror attack,” he said.
After the firing had ceased, Santhumayor tried to get up when one of the terrorists spotted him. “Our eyes locked for a brief second and I got the feeling an animal would get staring into the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. He shot me in the leg and I could see that the bone was completely shattered. In that moment, I really thought I was going to die,” he said.
The bullet went through the bone in his right leg and there was a considerable risk of losing the leg altogether. Amid the hazy details, the mind-numbing pain and the fear of not being able to walk again, Santhumayor recounted the worst part of the entire ordeal to be the poor quality of emergency medical services in the country. “My friend had to take me in a taxi to St George Hospital since there were no ambulances. The staff’s behaviour towards the patients was horrible and I remember the doctor there had wanted to amputate my leg,” he said. Owing to a shortage of supplies, Santhumayor added, he was moved from a stretcher to a wheelchair to a stool and eventually made to lie on the floor. “I was bleeding and bone fragments were jutting out when this guy came to wrap my leg with some cardboard. Thankfully, my parents arrived shortly after and shifted me to the Bombay Hospital. I remember the sense of immense relief when I gained consciousness and found my leg still attached to me,” he said.
As horrifying as the attack was, the long duration Santhumayor had to spend in a hospital confined to a bed proved to be a bigger challenge for him. Santhumayor attributed his speedy recovery to the continuous support from his parents and his former employer, the Tata Teleservices. “My employers were extremely considerate and understanding. Ratan Tata came to visit me in the hospital and asked me to take all the time I needed. I, however, hated spending so much time in the hospital and I was back at work six months after the incident,” he said.
Apart from the physical recovery, the ordeal left him nervous about crowded places out of fear of such an incident recurring again. “I remember I was petrified the first time I went back to Cafe Leopold with my family for lunch a year after the incident. For a brief time period, my loyalties had shifted from Cafe Leopold to Cafe Mondegar. But I was able to overcome my fears without any counselling, though it took me almost three years to be able to completely let go of the stress,” he said.
While the continuous support of his employers, his family and friends was the driving force that helped Santhumayor make a remarkable physical recovery after seven surgeries, the words of an American woman who had been shot in both her legs motivated him immensely to look beyond the incident. “Despite the blurriness caused by the painkillers, I distinctly remember her words, which helped me understand that it is important not to get entangled in the question ‘Why me?’. If I can get over a situation as difficult as this, I can face any challenge life throws at me hereon,” he said.
Currently working as a senior manager with the business services department at Vodafone, Santhumayor is now married and has a one-year-old son Adam. Even after his recovery, his right leg is about an inch shorter than the left and there is a significant portion of scar tissue left behind from the seven surgeries on his leg. And his injury has left him with a slight limp. Determined to not let the ordeal limit his life in any manner, he said, “Nothing ever prepares you for something like this. Today, I can say that we are over it. But there are people who have suffered worse injuries than mine and for some the damage has been irreversible. I, however, believe that time and a positive attitude can help heal the worst of injuries,” he said before he hopped on to his bicycle and rode away.