By Mythreyee Ramesh
At 83, Sarla Parekh is as energetic as ever. Having participated in a long litigation seeking better surveillance and security systems for the financial capital, eight years after she lost her son and daughter-in-law at the Oberoi Hotel on the night of 26/11, Parekh is satisfied with the results. “It only took eight years,” she smiles.
It was like any other Wednesday at the Parekh household, located on Marine Drive. Twelve-year-old Anandita and 10-year-old Arundhati came home to shopping bags full of clothes that their mother Reshma Parekh had purchased. As Arundhati went off to sleep, Anandita got ready to say goodnight to her parents who were going out to dinner. That was the last she would see them, as life changed forever.
In the Parekhs’ picturesque sea-facing apartment decorated with photos of Sunil and Reshma Parekh, who were shot dead at the Tiffin restaurant, photo albums of the family’s memories from various holidays are on the table. On the wall hangs a poem dedicated to the couple, written by a friend.
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“My parents are always late wherever they go and that night they were late for dinner. My mom hugged me and kissed me on my forehead. About an hour later, as I was getting ready to sleep, the phone rang and a family friend asked if I knew where my parents were. I knew they had gone for dinner but did not know where. Suddenly, it was all a blur,” says Anandita. The sisters are now pursuing their undergraduate degree from Barnard College in New York, and are in Mumbai for the annual tribute the Parekh family hosts in memory of Sunil and Reshma.
“One person who had gone for dinner came back running, and crying. We constantly tried to get in touch with the police officials. I rushed to G T hospital in Fort with money, hoping that they would bring them there for treatment. They telephoned us with the news, three days later. Such is life,” says a tearful Sarla, who not only took both the granddaughters under her wing, but also simultaneously began to get involved with others seeking better preparedness for Mumbai.
Along with former police commissioner Julio Ribeiro’s NGO Public Concern for Governance Trust and a few other friends, Sarla started filing RTI applications questioning the surveillance situation in the city. She took her fight all the way to the Supreme Court. “We had collected around Rs 60 crore for installation of security cameras and were ready to fund the installation through that money. But the Supreme Court rejected our plea and termed it the prerogative of the government. They did not want us to do it. It is not just about my son, you know,” says eighty-three-year-old Sarla, who still refuses to give up.
Losing their son also meant octogenarian Sevantilal Parekh had to return from retirement to run their business. “My daughter is helping me with the business. There is no one else and I am hoping that one day my granddaughters will take care of it,” said Sevantilal, looking fondly at his granddaughters.
Anandita and Arundhati confess to missing home while studying abroad but enjoy the perks that come with being away from home. “We grew up in a very protected environment. Our grandparents were obviously worried about our safety but times have changed and the world has changed,” says Arundhati.
While the sisters did miss the presence of their parents while growing up, it wasn’t often felt and they attribute this feeling to their aunt, who moved right next to their house so that she can take care of them. “She is as sturdy as a rock, in this family. She has put her heart and soul in keeping everyone in this family happy. She is pretty much amazing,” says an emotional Anandita.