Two Years Since 26/11

MissMalini , 26 Nov 2010

Today’s reality is that we don’t know when terror will strike next, we only know that it will. So let’s try to remember the things that matter most and respect the people that love us, because the only upside to situations like this is that we realize who they are and how much they care.

26/11, Carter Road candle-light vigil
Candlelight Vigil on Saturday November 29th, 2008 at Carter Road Promenade

I remember writing this blog the day after it happened and looking back now I must sadly admit that the entire episode has slowly whittled down to an “I-was-there-too” anecdote that I tell now and again. Pausing appropriately for reactions to the irony that smoking saved my life when I reveal that the ban on smoking prevented me from being inside the Trident lobby where I was scheduled to meet a friend at exactly the same time that the terrorists unleashed their wrath (gunfire, which I at first mistook to be a fireworks prank). When in fact that night could have changed my life forever, just as it ended so many others’.  I don’t mean to be macabre about it, but the truth is that while I went through the motions of “moving on” and being immensely grateful to be alive (and unharmed), I spent many months picturing different scenarios in my head where things could have ended very brutally for me. I imagined being in the lobby of the Trident, smoking a cigarette and day-dreaming, as the terrorists entered and sprayed the room with gunfire. I imagined tearful goodbyes to loved ones over the phone as my battery died. I imagined the lives that would be irrevocably damaged by just one death… and then, amidst all this horrible narcissism, I realized how many people this had actually happened to — without warning, undeserved and irreversible.

I remember writing the next day, “I don’t think I will ever be able to erase the memory of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel dome engulfed in flames or the agonizingly young and bitter face of an AK47 wielding terrorist. Even now, the chilling realization that I remain unharmed while so many lives were erased in an instant humbles me.”

How did we get here? And how easily we move on. The fact that we have a poster boy for the madness only makes it worse because when I look at this kid I don’t see a monster even though I know he is one. Just one of countless others being created at a horrific pace.

As I write this, my mind goes back two years in time to 5 am the next morning, when, full of trepidation and fear, we finally made our way home. Dawn brought us an eerie sense of calm as oblivious joggers made their daily trek up Marine Drive while the battle raged on less than a kilometer away. I don’t know if this qualifies as insensitive or resilient, but I do know this: in times of crisis, when we need it most, a motley crew of Mumbaikers will always pull out all the stops and show you the love.

I’m not sure how to feel about today and the fact that it marks the anniversary of that terrible night, but I do feel it is important to take a moment to remember the people who countered the hatred with love. Soldiers who came to the rescue and stayed up day and night until the terrorists were defeated. Unbelievably brave staff at both the Taj and the Trident Oberoi, who put the safety of others before their own. Every worried phone call or text message that was made or sent by someone out of love and concern. (It still stands out in my memory that my boyfriend who was in the US at the time was on the phone with me every ten minutes to see if I was ok and spent the night commenting on my old Facebook pictures, while friends and family stayed up all night on the phone with me till I made it home in the morning…)

Today’s reality is that we don’t know when terror will strike next, we only know that it will. So let’s try to remember the things that matter most and respect the people that love us because the only upside to situations like this is that we realize who they are and how much they care.

To my special people, thank you for loving me, you saved my life.

*Pavan Chawla over at radioandmusic.com asked me to share my thoughts on 26/11 as we commemorate all those that lost their lives that day. You can read the piece with his intro here and listen to my live updates for the BBC world service that night here. Thanks Pavan for asking me to do this and reminding me to cherish the wonderful people in my life. xoxo

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