Hemant Karkare’s life & 26/11: His daughter’s book is ready

Smita Nair
Hemant Karkare, Maharashtra ATS (Anti Terrorist Squad) chief was killed during 26/11 operation in Mumbai. (Express archive photo)

THE SUMMER after her mother’s death in 2014, Jui Karkare Navare found herself sitting inside a cemetery in Boston during a morning walk with her two daughters -- then four and one -- in a double stroller.

"I saw so many grandparents walking their grandchildren. I cried. I would never be able to see my parents take my children for a walk. That thought was so unbearable that tears flowed. I started walking fast, pushing the stroller, and took refuge in a cemetery close by as no one would then question my tears,” she says.

Eleven years after she lost her father Hemant Karkare to the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008, Navare will be in Mumbai this week to finally make her loss public -- and present her father to the world.

Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from the US, Navare says she has “written a memoir on my father”. The book, 'Hemant Karkare -- A Daughter’s Memoir', is being published by Crossword, The Write Place and will be launched on the eve of her father’s death anniversary.

Also read | Karkare’s daughter breaks silence: ‘My father taught us terror has no religion’

Having spent a decade watching her father’s last living image -- him donning a bullet proof vest, “played every year, every single year” on TV -- she says the book is her “sincere effort” to “focus on the positives, on the man he was and the life he lived”.

It was in April that Navare broke her silence on her father's death, telling The Indian Express in an interview that she wants everyone to remember that he placed his uniform before his own life and family.

She was speaking two weeks after Pragya Thakur, the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Bhopal, claimed that Karkare had died after she cursed him. Thakur was among 11 people arrested by the Maharashtra ATS under Karkare in October 2008.

Jui Karkare Navare

Navare, 38, is the eldest of Karkare’s three children and is settled in the US with her husband and their two daughters. Karkare’s wife died in 2014 after suffering a brain haemorrhage.

The book, says Navare, is a dream her mother Kavita had nurtured till her death.

"I was asked by many to get a ghost writer for the book. I didn’t. Emotions cannot be outsourced...Writing came as a catharsis to ease my grief, my anguish and my pain,” she says.

Navare recalls listening to Karkare's voice from control room records. “He had asked for the Army, he had recognised much before anyone that this was a terror attack. The control room is to be manned by the commissioner for law and order, but that night it was manned by someone else. Till today, I have never regretted that my father followed protocol. But I will always regret that the others didn’t. If rules are flouted at times of crisis, who can do anything? Who is to answer?”

Today, Navare's daughters have helped her handle the trauma, but writing about it hasn't been easy. “I initially started writing about the events on and around 26/11 and wondering if the masterminds of the attacks would ever be given the punishment they deserved. I wrote of the day I lost my father and I realised I couldn’t write anymore...I felt my senses deadened.”

She then used the silence of the nights to write. “I used to write deep into the night. I remember the early chapters, when I started to write about the night of November 26, even the smallest creak or sound from outside would startle me. Mornings, I would wake up horrified, the thought of my bleeding father having been unattended for 45 minutes shaking me. I would step out to drive my children to nursery and halt as the tears never stopped. How could he remain bleeding on the road for almost an hour? How much it must have pained him? How did he die in the end...thoughts like that...It’s something you have to live with. These thoughts will never leave me, at least not in my lifetime.”

Soon after the funeral, Navare found a “trunk of correspondence and diaries” at home. And, a father she didn’t know started taking shape “in the letters he had written to me from the academy even before I could read”.

Then, there were personal diaries, detailed notes from school days, his early thoughts, calendars and planners. “He was so meticulous even then,” she says.

Her father’s personal literature travelled with her back to America, away from the controversies that would rise. “I will always be thankful to (former Mumbai police commissioner) Julio Ribeiro for always speaking out to defend my father when anyone attempted to sully his name,” she says.

The book starts on the night of that November 26, but has interviews and correspondences from those associated with Karkare: a chapter from RH Mendonca, a letter from Meeran Chadha Borwankar. In India, Karkare’s sibling, Shirish and his wife Amruta, also helped by conducting interviews.

"This was a story of a man who was focussed, right from his childhood. And he was my father. He came from a vernacular medium and wanted to learn English. The diaries, written as early as when he was 21, speak of how he identified English words by looking for real life examples in friends.”

For instance, a friend who spoke less was named “taciturn” in the diary. “He writes of another friend who got selected in NASA and dreams of striving that level of excellence...Reading them was new to me.... There was this one specific page which I recall where he writes, ‘My friends call me chief. I shouldn’t let them down’,” says Navare.

Every page, she says, brought her closer to him. “Nothing was mundane, everything had a purpose to it. How many people at 21 are so focussed or are continuously developing one’s own personality. I decided to write it as a story to inspire others, others who might be in different backgrounds and want to aim high like him,” she says.

"Growing up, one of his constant lessons to us was we are too privileged and need to learn to respect the less fortunate, and do something for them. His idea of India always was that to become a stronger nation, we need to work from grassroots, reach the marginalised, the less privileged. Those lessons I heard from him are all there in his diaries -- it repeatedly says, do not take anything for granted,” she says.

Navare, who will be in Mumbai for a week, says her children are helping her move on. “If I hold grudges, it will affect me and not the other person... I was in USA when (Ajmal) Kasab was executed. I felt justice had been done. It was not just my father, he had killed many innocent lives. Look at it from my angle too, my father was a uniformed officer and his first loyalty was to the law of the land. I believe the same law of the land had set an example -- that no such person can go away easily. I feel to tackle terrorism, the only way forward is through education, through a positive approach.... My father always stressed ‘I am the chief of the anti-terrorism squad not anti-terrorist squad’. He knew the ideology is the real menace that has to be defeated.”

Back in the US, she says there are days when the fear of the gun can get too close. “The other day, my daughter came from school saying she was taught how to hide under the desk if a stranger walks in the school boundaries with a gun, and how to hide in the classroom till the teacher shuts the door. I went numb thinking how terrorism is now part of everyday life, everywhere. She is only eight. Someday, I plan to tell her about 26/11 when she is mature. But that day, I just told her, listen to the teacher’s instructions. My father always taught us, stick to the plan...”