Friday, January 16, 2009


was made to wear skirt, blouse, and taken into a plane with a star on the tail

By Vishwas Kulkarni
Posted On Friday, January 16, 2009 at 04:06:26 AM

Anita Uddaiya back at her home in Machchimaar Colony at Cuffe Parade. (Below) How we have been tracking this story

On the main road leading to Hotel President, just a few metres diametrically opposite from where India’s richest men have their residence, lives Anita Uddaiya, on the edge of the sea, above the shop of a scrap dealer. You climb a precarious iron staircase to get to her home. There’s a tiny terrace abutting two small rooms, and just behind the house is the small bay of the Arabian Sea, from where the fishermen of Mumbai set sail every day, and where, occasionally, terrorists from Karachi land.

We meet Uddaiya at 7 am on Thursday--she is just bathed and is leisurely combing her hair-- but there is no missing the exhaustion. “It is so unpleasant to be attacked from all sides. The police are haranguing us--they even went to my daughter’s neighbour’s house at Virar, and then there is the media. So intrusive.”

And yet she agrees to talk to us. There is an eagerness to share her story. Uddaiya says that on November 27, her account of how she saw six men walk up from the beach, burdened with heavy carry-alls, and how she tried to chat with them, was aired on India TV. Soon after, three white men--``tall, big-built”--came to meet her. They were accompanied by an Indian man, the interpreter, whom she identifies as a certain Sudhakar --``short, dark, mustached with very curly hair”--and they wanted to speak to her about what she had seen.

The four men met her thrice through December and the first half of January, wanting more details, and then asked her whether she would go abroad with them for a couple of days. “ I had come to trust them, I wanted to help them, so I said ok.” Uddaiya had also given her statement to the Crime Branch which is investigating the terror case and says she had been questioned a couple of times by the Mumbai police. “The foreigners were very nice to me and I just told them that I’ll come provided they deposit me back home safely.” In preparation for her trip she was taken to a “big, air-conditioned hospital,” for medical tests. However, she cannot identify the hospital. She was told that she would be taken on Saturday. As her husband is admitted at St. George hospital and she has two young children at home who need looking after, she summoned her eldest daughter Seema to come and stay over for the next few days. She also packed a small suitcase, which she showed us, with two of her best sarees. However she waited all of Saturday and there was no sign of the foreigners.

On Sunday morning, at around 5 or 6 am, she says she got a phone call asking her to step out of her home without carrying anything “pretending that I was going to the toilet.”

Some distance away, a big van was waiting to pick her up. “I told them I had to meet my husband before we left, so they took me to St George where I told my husband that I’ll be back in a few days and then we went to the airport at Andheri where I was given a skirt, blouse and a scarf to change into. Then we got into a plane, it was white and blue and had a star on the tail. It was not a very big plane, there were some empty seats ahead of where I sat. In all there would been fifteen to twenty people on that plane. I got very nervous when it took off but after that I settled down and went to sleep.”

“When we landed it was night. It was a very big airport, they put me through some security check and then we were out. When we stepped out it was cold, quite cold, but not unbearably so. We quickly got into a car and drove off. The streets were not too crowded, not like Mumbai, and I saw several tall buildings like the World Trade Centre we have here. I was taken to a hotel. What a lovely room it was! And the bed was so soft and springy, but I must tell you that I slept on the floor, for that is what I am used to to. But before that I was fed dinner, it was non-Indian food, and I didn’t care for it.”

The next morning, Uddaiya says, she was taken to a building which was as far from the hotel as “Machchimaar Nagar is from Colaba” There we was taken to a room, where there must have been 30-40 people but at the centre was a big black man who asked question like what time did the terrorists land, what they looked like, what they wore, the colour of their back-packs, the time gap between their disembarkation and the first blast at Colaba, whether I knew that foreigners were being particularly targetted.”

Uddaiya who had several cups of coffee through this long session says there was a camera recording her and by the time she was taken back to the hotel it was almost dusk. “People were very kind to me and I was told that if required they would call me back.” By the time she reached the airport it was again dark. “Unlike the time I left Mumbai, when there was no waiting involved, I was taken to a large room and we had to wait for some hours. The aircraft in which I came back also was different. It was a larger plane, there was a woman in a saree aside from white air hostesses, serving us, and the aircraft was white with a red stripe.”

Home food at last

On the journey back she says the plane also halted somewhere for about half hour to and hour but she says she does not know which place it was. Uddaiya landed in Mumbai at around six p.m. on Tuesday evening and then taken to a hotel, “very fancy,” and where she was given Indian food. “The food took a really long time to come, the men who had accompanied me kept chatting, but when the food did come it was excellent.” It was at the hotel that after 48 hours Uddaiya changed back into her clothes, which she says she had washed in the “hotel in America.”

At around 11 p.m., her escorts called for a taxi, gave her Rs 500, and instructed him to drop her home to Colaba. “I came back, saw the police and press waiting and the mess began.”

Despite persistent questioning, she is unable to provide more details, names of the foreigners who escorted her or even the city she travelled to. She says she had the foreigners’ cards but when we ask her for it, all she can give us are the numerous visiting cards of journalists. When asked about the promised money--her daughter had told this newspaper that Uddaiya had been promised $10,000--she said she had not seen any of it. “But they promised to call me again for further help,” she says.

However her description of the inside of an aircraft, the star (of David?) sign on the tailfin of a blue and white aircraft, and the way her suitcase had been packed point to a greater mystery.

The police have outrightly rejected her story, but this seems to be far from an open and shut case.

“ I had come to trust them (the foreigners who took her abroad), I wanted to help them, so I said ok”

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