Terror in Mumbai reaches local natives of India

It started as a few lines on a news Web site. Something about bombings and India.

That's what Nainan Desai remembers seeing on his computer screen while finishing work Wednesday night.

By the time the 51-year-old Tampa man reached his home, the story had grown into a terrorist siege. And it was happening only miles away from where his sister works and lives in downtown Mumbai.

Desai dialed his phone in a panic. After half a dozen calls to friends and relatives, Desai and his wife, Devyani, who also has family in the area, could exhale. Their families were safe.

But the couple remain glued to CNN. They sit around their kitchen and grieve for a country they once knew.

"There is so much of disappointment in our country and culture that is known for tolerance and peace where violence is now becoming the way," said Nainan Desai, assistant director of the physical plant at the University of South Florida. "We are really disappointed with all these developments."

More than 150 people, including five Americans, have been killed since terrorist attacks began in Mumbai. Another 327 people have been wounded. The bulk of the fighting centered around luxury hotels downtown.

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The incident has left those in Tampa Bay's Indian community searching for answers. An estimated 15,000 from India live in the area.

Tampa resident Dr. Sagar Galwankar said Friday that he has learned a friend of his was killed in the attacks.

Galwankar, who completed a residency in trauma and emergency management at USF and Tampa General Hospital, would not disclose his friend's name out of respect for his family. All he knows is that the man's relatives received a call to pick up his body. They were told he had been shot.

Now Galwankar, who divides his time between Mumbai and Tampa, has to decide whether he wants to settle again in India as he had planned.

He feels his country needs doctors like him, but he worries about his wife and 3-year-old daughter.

His next trip is scheduled for January.

"Will I go? Yes I will. It's my country. Will I go and eat in a five-star hotel? Probably not," he said. "Who's safe? Nobody."

Dr. Chitra Ravindra, president of the Hindu Temple of Florida in Carrollwood, one of Tampa's largest temples, will join with other Hindu leaders in the area for prayer on Sunday morning.

The leaders will bring their congregations together at the Hindu Temple of Florida to perform a "Shanti Homa" or peace prayer. The service is open to the public.

"Why do they have to show their faith through violence?" asked Ravindra. "We come from a country that is supposed to be nonviolent and peace loving, but because of certain few people, everybody has to suffer."

A special prayer service also is being held at the Chabad Jewish Center in Palm Beach for the rabbi from Brooklyn and his wife, who were killed at a Jewish Center in India. Their toddler son was rescued by his nanny.

"We believe we're all one people created by God," said Dr. Pawan K. Rattan, chairman of the board of trustees at the Sanatan Mandir Temple in downtown Tampa. "In addition to praying for people who have left, we will pray for those in shock and hurt."

Brush with disaster

Rattan, 60, returned from a trip to India on Wednesday. He travels to his hometown in northern India often to perform charity work. The retired Tampa physician had hoped to stay a few days longer and travel to Mumbai, the country's financial capital, for shopping. But in a last-minute change, he decided to come home.

He returned to the United States on the same day the terrorist attacks began.

"I guess God was looking out for me," said Rattan, a frequent guest at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, one of the sites in Mumbai that was attacked. "I'm personally lucky that I didn't go."

On Friday, India's prime minister accused rival terrorist elements in Pakistan of orchestrating the attacks.

Rattan, who grew up in an Indian town bordering Pakistan, remembers a time when the two countries shared harmonious relations.

"(We have) the same language, same culture, we look the same, we have same blood," said Rattan, who said he attended school 15 miles from Pakistan's border. "We lived like brothers, basically."

Rattan said he will pray that President-elect Obama will find a way to end the discord and return India to its former peaceful self.

Times staff writer Stephanie Garry contributed to this report. Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (727)893-8828.

.Fast Facts

Prayer service

A prayer service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday at the Hindu Temple of Florida, 5509 Lynn Road in Carrollwood. For more information, call (813) 962-6890.

Terror in Mumbai reaches local natives of India 11/28/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 29, 2008 8:49pm]

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