In memory of a brave woman

‘If I don’t make it out…’

Lo Hwei Yen’s husband talks about her last moments

By Teh Joo Lin & Kimberly Spykerman
‘Only in her very last sentence did she say, ‘Please tell them (the authorities) to hurry up’,’ said Mr Puhaindran, who wants people to know his wife was a brave Singaporean. — ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

EVEN as she was being held by terrorists in her Mumbai hotel a week ago, Ms Lo Hwei Yen’s voice remained steady as she spoke with her husband on her mobile phone.

‘I was reacting to her trying to remain calm as well,’ her husband, Mr Michael Puhaindran, recalled yesterday.

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‘Only in her very last sentence did she say: ‘Please tell them (the authorities) to hurry up’.

‘That’s when I really couldn’t take it and I told her I loved her so very much, and she said the same thing.

‘And those were her last words.’

Some time later, the 28-year- old Ms Lo was killed by her captors. She was one of several people who lost their lives in The Oberoi Trident Hotel, one of several Mumbai landmarks attacked by terrorists whose rampage left over 180 dead.

Yesterday, during his wife’s wake, Mr Puhaindran spoke to reporters for the first time about her last hours.

While the 37-year-old was composed at the start of the 40-minute interview attended by some 20 journalists and cameramen, by the time it ended, he had broken down several times.

He said he last saw his wife on Wednesday last week when he drove her to the airport for an early morning flight to Mumbai. The lawyer was heading to India’s financial centre to deliver a talk on the impact of the credit crunch on the shipping industry.

The couple, who were married over a year ago, exchanged text messages throughout the day, but around midnight Ms Lo called her husband on her mobile phone.

‘She sounded calm but there’s a slight degree of urgency in her voice. She was having dinner but they heard some commotion outside. It sounded like gunshots,’ Mr Puhaindran recalled.

The shots came from terrorists who had stormed the high-end Oberoi, armed with machine guns and grenades.

About 15 minutes later, the couple spoke again. This time, Ms Lo told her husband she was cooped up in a 10th-floor stairwell with some hotel security guards and other staff, waiting for the police.

He held off calling her for 45 minutes, not wanting to blow her cover.

When he tried to call again later, ‘the phone would ring but nobody picked it up’.

Unbeknown to her husband, Ms Lo had been taken hostage.

Then came a call at about 6am.

‘She was talking in a completely steady voice. She said she was being held hostage by gunmen…armed with machine guns and grenades,’ said Mr Puhaindran.

The terrorists gave Ms Lo a message for her husband: Get the Singapore Government to tell the Mumbai authorities to refrain from storming the hotel – or she would lose her life.

‘Needless to say, we went completely nuts,’ said Mr Puhaindran, who informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials conveyed the message to the top levels of the Indian government.

While she was held captive, Ms Lo also managed to send out a few e-mail messages through her BlackBerry. One message sent to three close friends at about 6.30am described her capture.

‘She ended off by saying: ‘If I don’t make it out of here, I love you all’,’ said Mr Puhaindran.

‘Despite everything she was facing, she still had the strength and courage to tell her friends that she loved them…I want people to know she was a brave Singaporean…that’s how brave she was.’

She would call her husband a final time when she asked him to tell the authorities to hurry.

Thirty-six hours later, on Friday evening, Mr Puhaindran was walking through the lobby of the Oberoi, which was covered in blood and broken glass. It had taken commandos two days to clear the building, which was still being swept for bombs.

There was no electricity. The building was ‘pitch-black’ as he climbed a stairwell; each step slippery because the sprinklers had gone off.

When he reached the 19th floor, Mr Puhaindran saw his wife’s body and he touched her cheek.

Someone passed him her handbag, which had her mobile phone, with about 150 missed calls, and her wedding ring.

‘Thank God they allowed me to see her where she lay…and they showed her to me,’ he said. ‘She still looked very beautiful.’

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3 Comments

Filed under Co-sojourners, Family, Life, News, Stories, Thoughts, Travel, Work

3 responses to “In memory of a brave woman

  1. novice101

    Unnecessary carnage! Utter Madness!

    Mr. Puhaindran, whay canI say?

  2. novice101

    Sorry, – “What can I say”.

  3. Pingback: One hundred days ago « Mumbai lives 26.11.2008

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