It is as if the whole event has been imprinted on my mind. The reel plays again and again. I could not believe it in the first go. When I heard the news that gun shots were fired near the Taj, I brushed away the news as exaggeration. On the pillion seat of the Royal Enfield, as I rode back with H to Grant Road, we heard a noise. It was far away and so I refused to acknowledge it.
When I got back home, I switched on the TV. They reported a gang-war amongst some Nigerian drug peddlers. A shoot out at Leopold. A shoot out at Leopold?! That is some five minutes away from Mondy’s, the place I would have been at (in all imaginable and unimaginable possibility) that evening, if not for A being stuck at work until so late. “It will be late and we won’t get a table…” A had said. But the gang-war seemed a credible analysis. Afterall Leopolds’ was the place where foreigners flocked for all meals (and conversations).They played a drum-roll sort of music and the dim lighting always gave it the ideal fitting into Shantaram-like novels.
But the news continued to follow the trail. Leopold, Napeansea Road, Vile Parle, Santacruz, Taj, Oberoi, Cama Hospital, VT Station and Nariman House – explosions and shoot-outs continued to wreak havoc in my city. The news channeled flashed images of people lying about on blood-splattered tiles, vehicles twisted out of shape, horror-struck faces with tears running down numb cheeks and men in olive-green uniforms trying to gain control of the situation. The news strip continued to mark the rise in number of deaths – an ACP, the chief of the Anti-Terrorist Squad and another senior police officer were all killed in one shot at the first go. The names didn’t sound familiar – no memories of even having read about them in the newspaper, but I watched their funerals, their families and stories of their bravery with a sense of familiarity.
For three whole days my television was on. Even while I travelled from Mumbai to Pune on the eve of the last evacuation operation by the National Security Guards, I constantly kept in touch with people seated before their televsision sets, trying to remain with the scenes and the situation. I felt as though I was leaving my city at a time when it needed me and so even when I returned at 11pm on Sunday night, I drove into South Mumbai and walked the deserted streets near gateway, the by-lanes behind the Taj, where Bade-Miya was still serving sheek-kebabs; a lonely Leopold Café which now stood shutters-down and the Oberoi –Trident couple still stood up high, even though the window panes of the lobby were shattered. Mumbai, the city that never sleeps, was not asleep even today; but in fact she was waking up very early, still groggy. Candles blinked along the streets and small groudp of people stood silently, some with cameras, some with their little children and some others with flowers. I hadn’t brought a candle, but like many others I scrounged the small lit-up squares for a candle that had extinguished or probably fallen over. I could make it stand again; I could make it bright again. What a blissful feeling.
Those three nights stole Mumbai’s joy and spritely charm. A bunch of innocent killed a mass of innocent. I can’t help but feel bad for the terrorists, even as I cheer the soldiers who put up a skilful fight. For what fault of these young boys were they brought to a point to “kill unto death.” These boys were just like you and me, of an age where we are on that threshold of life where we begin to question what we have been taught and learn to distinguish between the right and the wrong. But unlike us, these boys didn’t have the time to learn, to question to verify or to rebel. They just had to prove – prove to themselves and to those who taught them that they were worthwhile students. To me the situation was as simple as this: their teachers capitalized on their age, the emotional phase it brings with it, the surge of rebellion and ambitiousness that overwhelms everything else.
It was a similar phase for the boys from the National Security Guards too, don’t you think? They too prove to themselves and to those who taught them that they were worthwhile students that they had applied efficiently each bit of what they had learnt. They were congratulated and hugged, drowned in cheer and appreciation for what they had accomplished.
Neither of the boys have any regrets.
They all came face to face for a cause. Each one had his own motivation and reason to be a part of it. For the lives that were lost as reason for these causes and for the minds that did not have chance to think, to feel to voice, I hope that the circle completes for them – through the thoughts and voices of those who survive them!