New Delhi: Sebastian D’Souza dominated front pages of newspapers all over the world for being the only photographer to take pictures of Ajmal Kasab and Esmail Khan, the two militants who took part in the Mumbai attacks on November 26, 2008.
While Khan was gunned down in a shoot-out with police, authorities captured the lone surviving militant, Kasab.
As the two were shooting people at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), the self-taught photographer, D’Souza, was also shooting — but pictures of the attackers. Even as gunfire erupted all around him, he took astonishing pictures of Kasab using a telephoto lens on his Nikon camera, while hiding inside a train carriage.
D’Souza, who worked with the Mumbai Mirror, a Times of India publication, whose offices are just opposite the CST, had heard the gunfire and rushed towards it.
“I ran into the first carriage of one of the trains on the platform to try and get a shot, but as I could not get a good angle, moved to the second carriage and waited for the gunmen to walk by. I briefly had time to take a couple of frames. I think they had seen me taking photographs, but didn’t seem to care,” D’Souza was quoted as saying.
The close-up photograph of Kasab, holding an AK47 — used by media the world over — brought the photographer instant fame and glory.
Much acclaimed by the foreign media, who lavished praises on him, five years later, D’Souza lives a quiet and retired life in the country of his origin that has left him unrewarded and unsung.
“My contract with Mumbai Mirror ended in 2011, but I was given an extension for three years. As I started to feel the stress, I hung my camera in May 2012. Painting was a passion in school, but it had taken a back seat. Now I am devoting time to it and art painting, which I do digitally, keeps me occupied,” D’Souza says.
What has changed for you since the night of November 26, 2008?
Nothing has changed since that horrible night, except that it has made me a much stronger person, who has great appreciation and value for life. It has enhanced my faith in God, because I was guided by a voice from above that not only took my fear away that day, but also helped me in taking those particular pictures and brought me out safely from the scene of horror.
You must have made a fortune out of selling the pictures?
I do wish I had sold the pictures to some foreign news agency and made good money. But being an honest person, I did not. In fact, I gave the pictures for free to my Mumbai-based friend Rajnesh Kakade, a photographer with an American news agency.
Would you term the picture as the high point of your life that made you famous the world over?
Yes, I do. But I did not know that I was the first news photographer to have captured a terrorist live in action. It not only made me famous, but I also became the first Indian news photographer to win the World Press Photo Award for that picture in 2009. This was truly an honour and a feel good factor because, for many years, several photographers including myself had been sending out entries for the much-coveted award.
How has the Indian government honoured you for your professionalism?
The Indian government has done nothing to honour me. I had the opportunity to meet then chief minister of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan, who granted me a house. But I discovered that the apartment is a disputed property! So, as before, I continue to live in rented accommodation with my wife Rose. This has taught me that no matter how professional you are, our political leaders will neither care nor respect you, but will cheat you. Rather it was the Supreme Court that honoured me by producing the captured images during Kasab’s trial.
You have maintained that there were numerous armed policemen around that night, so, what could be their reason for not shooting the attackers?
Yes, there were plenty of policemen around, but they feared for their own lives, because of being poorly equipped. Moreover, they were untrained to handle that kind of situation. And the terrorists shot the brave policemen who dared to challenge them.
Do you have any regrets and feel you could have tackled the situation differently?
I never regret things, but do feel bad and angry that there was no policeman around holding an AK47 rifle. If they had, believe me, I would have snatched the rifle from a policeman’s hands and shot the two terrorists. That would have changed the entire scenario. No innocent person would have got killed outside CST.
So, do the images come to haunt you even now?
I never look back, as the past is for the dead. Since I have seen lot of bloodshed during my career, one gets used to it.
What was your family’s reaction to the photographs? Were they worried about your safety thereafter?
Though they have seen me face dangerous situations as part of my profession, for the first few days, they were really stunned and worried about my safety.