Manmal Manikchand Begani had just washed up after his 12-hour workday and was getting ready to start dinner at 9.45pm when he got a call from the chief medical officer of Bombay Hospital, the institution he has been with for nearly 32 years. Dr Begani, the hospital’s senior consultant surgeon, was told that eight people with bullet wounds had been brought to the hospital from The Oberoi and Trident hotels, where there had been a gang war-related shooting.

When Begani—a tall, distinguished- looking man with a cloud of silvery hair—switched on his TV, he realized it was a terror attack. He rushed back to the hospital he had left only an hour ago, and started on a marathon session of examining patients, deciding who needed life-saving surgery and operating on them one after the other.

Begani and a team of specialists, residents, anaesthetists and nursing staff ministered to 54 patients and operated on 26 in the first 24 hours. “We had to keep courage, had to be alert and take a decision as to which were the priority patients," says the 60-year-old, when we meet in the hospital’s OT. Out of those 54 patients, four were brought dead (one of them was additional commissioner of police Ashok Kamte), while three (including karate master Farokh Dinshaw) died at the hospital.

Critical care: (back row, from left) Bombay Hospital CMO Dr D Agarwal, Dr Begani and Dr M Nariani, with members of the hospital’s staff. Abhijit Bhatlekar

Due to the travel restrictions that night, ambulances with police escorts were despatched to bring in some specialists, though many only made it to the hospital the next day. Dr Begani is thankful that the hospital’s various ICUs could accommodate all the wounded.

The son of a jeweller, Dr Begani obtained his doctorate from Bikaner’s Sardar Patel Medical College and moved to Mumbai from Rajasthan. He has been with the hospital since April 1978, and his first experience of dealing with a carnage was during the Mumbai riots of 1992; then there were the bomb blasts in 1993. Despite calls from friends and relatives from “up country" cautioning him to stay home during the riots, Dr Begani says: “We kept on going. I never stayed at home. It is part of (my) nature, part of the training, part of the oath and commitment."

Despite being a man of science, Dr Begani’s faith in a higher power is where he seems to get his strength from. After his morning swim, yoga session or walk, he goes to the temple on the mornings when he has no emergency cases. He remembers instances when there was not much hope for a patient, but he never gave up. “I feel, always keep hope and even if there’s a 1% chance, you keep on doing your job. God is great." And he recognizes the same faith and fighting spirit in many of his patients who survive against the odds. “Having strong willpower is very important— besides physical injury, the mental shock is equally traumatizing," he says.

After the 26/11 attacks, Dr Begani has made presentations on how the team at Bombay Hospital handled the situation, including one at the Universitair Ziekenhuis Antwerpen in Belgium, an institute he frequents for refresher courses in robotic and new surgery techniques. The government of Maharashtra has also approached Dr Begani and Dr Hariram Jhunjhunwala, the hospital’s senior orthopedic surgeon, to prepare a presentation for a meeting on disaster management.

Begani says he would like the Bombay Hospital to have sessions with doctors from Mumbai institutions such as Sion Hospital, which handles a large number of highway accident and emergency cases. “We can learn a lot from them. We can share our experience and they have the experience of running an everyday emergency ward with a multidisciplinary and multi-speciality approach," he says.

Dr Begani also gives credit to Mumbaikars for their support and positivity. “Through all these catastrophes, public support has been great. It makes a big difference for us to work hard," he says. The hospital had volunteers, including staff from the Taj, Oberoi and Trident, who came in at night during the attacks and told him: “‘Doctor, just tell us what to do and we’ll do it’. They helped with moral support, and that is very important."