Headley and i, p.12
HEADLEY AND I, p.12S. Hussain Zaidi
I was sure that of the many potential targets, the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Trident Hotel were the most prominent and held the maximum promise as far as my plan was concerned. But I knew—I had also been told by my masters—that just these would not do. I had to scout for more targets.
I started casting my net a little wider, visiting various places across the city, including Sena Bhavan, which I was convinced had to be one of the targets. In fact, later on, in April 2008, we even decided to set our sights on the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), which is India’s premier multi-disciplinary nuclear research facility. It had never been targeted before, as the entire campus of BARC is well protected by mountains on one side and the sea on the other. But if Major Iqbal, Sajid and their plans were to be believed, and if I could conduct a good enough recce and manage to provide accurate details about the layout of BARC, perhaps it would not remain as impregnable this time as it had been in the past.
So I made several trips to Chembur to figure out how BARC could be attacked. I checked out the campus out from all sides, and even went up into the mountains that were adjacent to it; I secured a coign of vantage from where I could survey the area around BARC, and identify possible entry and exit routes. I left no stone unturned in my efforts, but try as I might, I could not find a way into the impregnable fortress-like nuclear facility. I told myself that there was always a way, and one only had to look hard enough to find it, and so I decided to come back later.
Sometimes, there would be strange instructions from my Pakistani handlers. For instance, in July 2008, I received one of the oddest instructions I’d got so far: to buy ten religious threads or wristbands from some Hindu temple. I had no idea why I was given this order as such wristbands are worn predominantly by Hindus and not by Muslims. But I had to carry out my orders to the letter. I also understood that I was supposed to know only as much as was essential and my masters would not tell me every detail of the operation they were planning.
So I went in search of the most famous temple in Mumbai, and in due course, I was directed to the Siddhivinayak Temple in Dadar. I decided to go to the temple with Vilas and Rahul. I called them up and told them that I wanted to visit the most famous temple in the city, and people had told me that it was the Siddhivinayak. When I asked them if they would accompany me, both Rahul and Vilas agreed.
We went to the temple on a Tuesday. I was amazed to see that even on a weekday there was a huge queue to get inside the temple. For some strange reason, Tuesday had been designated the day for the deity, Ganesha. I could not understand why God needed to be worshipped just on one particular day.
The queue snaked its way out from inside the temple and spilled onto the streets, and I saw the devotees waiting patiently for their turn. I was a little dismayed at this long queue, but I had my instructions. So I stood in the queue with the devotees, and so did Rahul and Vilas, and I could tell that they were surprised that I was not deterred by the long wait.
The three of us stood for several hours in that queue, until we finally got our turn and made our way inside. I bought the ten wristbands that I had been instructed to. Although Rahul was quite indifferent, Vilas was curious about why I, an American, wanted to buy wristbands, a symbol of the Hindu religion, and that too, not one but ten. I told him that they were for friends of mine who were interested in Hindu deities and worship.
It was then that I had an inkling of what my masters were probably planning. It suddenly struck me that at least ten men would come from Pakistan to India for some reason, and that these wristbands were for them so they could pass off as Hindus.
Behera instantly recalled that when Ajmal Kasab was captured by the Mumbai Police, he had been wearing a wristband. It had baffled the Mumbai cops for a long time—why would a Pakistani terrorist wear a wristband from a Hindu temple in Mumbai? Did they plan to mislead the cops? Or did they have far more nefarious designs? Behera remembered that Kasab was also carrying fake identity cards that made him out to be a student of a Bengaluru college.
Headley’s voice jolted him back to the present.
Almost every day was spent scouting for places in the city that were vulnerable to attack. After all the spying and snooping around, I needed an outlet or some kind of entertainment in the evenings to relax.
There was a bakery in Colaba, a very famous one, where, once in a while, a beautiful girl could be seen at the counter. She appeared to be in her mid-twenties, and whenever I went past the shop, she never failed to attract my attention. I decided to find out more about her, maybe develop a friendship with her, take her out to dinner. I hoped she would provide the distraction I needed after my work during the day.
Just to impress her, I would go to the bakery and buy pastries worth Rs 2,000 at a time. Slowly, I managed to catch the girl’s attention, and it turned out that my purchases had made her think that I was an affluent American businessman. Soon, she started to give me her full attention. She would take me around the shop and chat with me as I selected pastries. And so we became friends.
The girl was half my age, but she was very intelligent and extremely articulate. I realized that she was fantastic company. I met her a couple of times, but never summoned up enough courage to ask her to bed.
After we had been out with each other a few times, her mannerism and demeanour told me that she was getting serious about me. This was confirmed just a few days later when she took me to meet her father at her home. He turned out to be a nice man, and he behaved very warmly with me and was very hospitable. He clearly loved his daughter, and I could tell that he was unhappy that she had brought home someone who was twice her age. He kept trying to gauge how serious I was about her, and whether I was good enough for her. Nothing came of this, though, although I kept in touch with my beautiful friend for a long time.
Somehow women have been my weakness—a fact I had grown to acknowledge. During the time I was dating the girl from the bakery, I happened to bump into a Bollywood starlet while I was Headley and I working out at Moksh. She was very attractive, and I liked her very much. I remember watching her in a Bollywood flick where she plays an authority on the Mumbai underworld. I liked the way she portrayed her character in the movie.
Whenever I found this starlet working out at the gym, my eyes would stray towards her; I shamelessly lusted after her. I would often stop during my workout session and admire her flawless figure that sported all the right curves in the right places.
Even as I was dreaming about these two women, another actress who was rising fast in Bollywood caught my attention. She was beautiful and curvaceous, and I even contemplated paying to go on the sets of one of her shoots and meeting her. But I was told that her English was not very good, and I was not willing to expose my knowledge of Hindi to her. So I kept admiring her from a distance, and decided that someday later I would use Rahul to get to her, meet her over a cup of coffee or dinner and speak to her in broken Hindi, as if I had picked it up while I was in Mumbai.
Such were the evenings that I spent, either on dates or in silent contemplation of feminine beauty and the desires it stirred.
It was during that same trip in July 2008 that another message came to me through Tahawwur Rana from my Pakistani handlers. I was told to make a trip to Pune.
When I told Rahul that I would be going to Pune, he was excited and wanted to tag along; he had a girlfriend in Pune and had good reason to accompany me. Vilas too wanted to come. But I couldn’t have that. If they came with me, they would definitely smell a rat, which I couldn’t afford at all. So I told them that I would have to go to Pune on my own as I had a lot of work there. I also told them I was thinking of setting up another branch of First World Immigration. It would require considerable time and a lot of effort on my part, which would leave me with little opportunity to spend time with them. Both Rahul and Vilas accepted my explanation.
My brief was to visit all the places where westerners and white people tended to congregate in large numbers. The idea was to create int
The primary target that my handlers were eyeing, and for which I had been sent to scout out the area, was the Osho ashram in Pune. There would be a few Indians at the ashram, but most of Rajneesh’s followers were either Europeans or Americans. So any kind of blast at the ashram would create a huge clamour internationally.
I did a thorough recce of the ashram and realized that the place was virtually a fortress, made so by the workers of the ashram themselves. It would be difficult to penetrate it or attack it from anywhere at all. Unlike the places in Mumbai that were proving to be a cakewalk, the entry points to the ashram were all guarded fiercely and there were several rounds of registration to complete, preventing anyone from simply walking in. Security guards crawled all over the place. The receptionist too was a very inquisitive person, and took down all kinds of details before allowing anyone inside.
So now I had to come up with a viable alternative target. I spent a long time scouring the areas around the ashram, and finally hit upon a place which was frequented by foreigners and was also visited by those at the ashram. It was the famous German Bakery.
The bakery was very close to the ashram, almost diagonally opposite the Jewish Chabad House. During the evening hours, foreigners made a beeline to the bakery to buy freshly baked bread and other products. I did some quick calculations and realized that if planned properly, a big enough explosion at the bakery would affect the ashram itself and draw the attention of the international community.
I also visited several military installations in Pune, looking for a possible attack site. Unfortunately, I could not find any loopholes in the security there. I drew my conclusions from the recces, prepared my report, and returned to Mumbai.
By the time the July 2008 trip drew to an end, my targets were slowly becoming clearer. I had decided that south Mumbai would be the main target, and that the German Bakery in Pune could also be one. We were still to figure out whether an attack on BARC would be viable or not, even though I was very keen on it.
Behera interrupted. ‘Mr Headley, you told us about your visiting several military installations. What about the attack on the CRPF camp in Rampur?’
Headley looked puzzled. ‘What do you mean? When was this attack?’
‘In January 2008.’
‘I’m afraid I have no information about it.’ Headley paused, and seemed to think. Then he said, ‘I know that sometime in January 2008 Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi had met a couple of LeT operatives who had escaped from India. But that is all I know.’
Behera sat back in his chair, nodding. His assumption was correct. The LeT were working on a need-to-know basis, and nobody was given the entire picture. Even someone like Headley didn’t know all that was going on. Behera gestured to Headley to carry on.
The Sena Bhavan was among these high-profile targets—it had been on my mind from the very start. I believed I had already made inroads there, since I had been cultivating Vilas’s friendship for quite some time; in fact, by July 2008, we had been great friends for about a year. The previous year, I had done enough to ensure that he valued me and my friendship highly. In May 2007, I had even organized a birthday party for him. I knew this would endear him to me even further, and he would trust me completely.
Vilas was crossing forty, and had once told me that he had never been given a party for his birthday, coming as he did from a lower-middle-class background. No one had ever cut a cake for him or lit candles or even wished him a happy birthday, for that matter. It was rather sad, and I knew instantly that the best gesture I could make was to organize a birthday party for him. We had the party on 30 May at a south Mumbai joint.
When Vilas saw what I had done, he was speechless. I couldn’t count the number of times he thanked me. Throughout the party, too, he remained extremely emotional, visibly overwhelmed by the attention he was getting from all the people who had come to the party. I found that Rahul too was delighted that I had done something like this for his friend. The party served another purpose—it brought me closer to Rahul Bhatt.
In fact, I consider this party that I threw for Vilas to be the smartest thing I did on that particular trip. At an expense of a few thousand rupees and a couple of hours, I had managed to turn Vilas into a steadfast ally and a friend for life.
Life holds many secrets and the unravelling of these is one of its greatest joys. But I will never be able to fathom certain secrets, for instance, the ones inside David Headley’s mind; what he thought and how he functioned the way he did remain a mystery to me. This man came out of nowhere and became such a good friend that not a day went by when I did not speak to him or think about him or SMS him.
David had many endearing qualities that charmed everyone who came in contact with him. I am not friendly and gregarious by nature. Having grown up the way I did, it is hardly surprising that I am a bit of a recluse. But David made me open up to him in a way that I never could have imagined. While I remained aloof and isolated from people around me, I loved talking to him. He often came down to my place in Bandra, and we would sit out on the terrace and watch the city go by, talking for hours on end. It was difficult not to talk to him when he was with you, and it was impossible to say no to him.
Yet, there were times when we would both lapse into a very comfortable, companionable silence during which we didn’t speak a word to each other. David kind of grew on me; I felt comfortable with him.
Every time I looked at him, I felt happy that he was with me, and at the same time a little sad and wistful that my own father, Mr Mahesh Bhatt, was so unlike him. I started looking for Mr Bhatt in someone who came from across continents and over thousands of miles, and was not even an Indian. If only my father had been as friendly, as warm and helpful as this guy.
What made it such a pleasure talking to him was that David always made it a point to talk about things I liked and was interested in. I would ask him all kinds of questions and he would have answers for each of them. Right from the beginning of our association, he knew that I found security, crime and related subjects most interesting. I always looked forward to his responses to questions I had on these subjects. Once, in 2007, I had sent him an email saying that I was researching the role of a suicide bomber as I was likely to land a role in a movie where I would be playing such a character. I asked him if he could suggest a couple of books that I might read to get into character.
He instantly replied to my mail with a few names: The Kaoboys of Raw by B. Raman, Counterinsurgency by David Kilcullen, Killing Zone: A Professional’s Guide to Preparing and Preventing Ambushes by Gary Stubblefield and Mark Monday. He even told me that he would get them for me from the US the next time he came to Mumbai. In the same email, he told me that he had ordered a few books for himself—International Fugitives, Boxing Mastery, Ragner’s Guide to Interviews, Investigations, and Interrogations, and The Brutal Art of Ripping and Poking. I knew that he was interested in all these subjects, so much so that he wanted his son to grow up to be a commando.
David was always very supportive of me, a fact I realized during one of our conversations. It was sometime in late 2007, and we were sitting in my terrace garden and chatting. The conversation turned to movies and then to my own family and the film industry. I had once told him that my father had long ago promised a launch pad for me in Bollywood. Suddenly, David turned to me and said, ‘What’s takin
I didn’t know how to respond as I myself didn’t have an answer to that question; in fact, I still haven’t found the answer. So I kept quiet.
David was quick to sense my mood and asked me, ‘Rahul, how much does it cost to make a movie?’
‘Oh, around five to seven crore rupees for a small budget film,’ I told him.
He seemed a bit nonplussed, and said, ‘Okay, how much is that in dollars?’
I did some mental arithmetic and replied, ‘Roughly two million dollars.’
He said, ‘Hey! That’s not a problem at all! I’ll speak to my partner and see if we can raise the money for your film!’
I couldn’t believe my ears. I knew that he was genuinely concerned about me, and also that he liked the idea of being part of the glitz and glamour of Bollywood. He used to refer to me as his favourite hero, and we had often talked, though not seriously, about making an Indian version of The Godfather, in which Vilas would play the role of Luca Brasi. But this was unexpected.
‘Are you kidding?’ I asked incredulously.
David laughed and said, ‘Sure! Why not? Let me see what I can do, okay?’
I was speechless. I had no reason to doubt his concern and his interest in launching me in a film. All I could see was a friend, a father figure, helping me realize my dream.
It is true that Vilas is the one who introduced me to David, but ultimately, I became closer to him. Vilas was David’s gymnasium trainer, but I was more of a surrogate son to him, if there is such a term.
In fact, David began trusting me so much that he started taking steroid cycles from me. I injected him several times with IGF-2 and charged him 800 dollars for the entire cycle, which he happily paid.
HEADLEY AND I by S. Hussain Zaidi / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes