Yesterday’s bomb blasts in Mumbai reminded me of the terrorists’ attacks of 2008; I was in Mumbai back then and the whole experience now came back to me. Instinctively, I went back to my old folders and opened my entries from November 2008.
While reading it I realized that even though I got some comfort in venting out through words, I was restless. Both entries were incomplete; before I could finish my thoughts, I got overwhelmed by grief, despair and an inexplicable discomfort. I was overcome by this weird feeling of suddenly being exposed to violence and extreme pain. I felt insecure and unsafe; I felt sad for all those who suffered; and worse of all I felt almost helpless because I had to put all of this aside to continue my work which paid my salary at the end of every month.
Now that I have a blog, I want to publish what I, as a resident of Mumbai, felt when my city was under threat. What follows in this post is a culmination of those two entries from my private folder.
After the attacks; Mumbai; 28-Nov-08 and 29-Nov-08
As the day went by, it became gloomy. Fridays have never been more depressing. There were fewer people in the office; many more left within an hour after lunch. ‘The final assault’ was still on as highlighted by one of the multiple news channels covering the story of terrorist attacks since Wednesday night. The only topic of conversation was the post-analysis of the attacks. Like many others, I left the office a bit earlier than usual, around 6 in the evening. The traffic was relatively faster, the roads relatively empty. I reached home, changed into more comfortable clothes, switched off the lights and lied down on my bed. This temporary rented flat that I called home in this city had never felt so welcoming and secure. In the safety of my home, in the comfort of my bed, the terror stories of the past two days kept ringing in my mind. The wild assortment of news headlines and the day-long discussions of my colleagues and friends kept me disturbed. To distract my mind away, I played some light music. Lying there in the dark, I felt a teardrop fell down my cheek. For the second time in my life ever, I felt tears in my eyes. I couldn’t help feel sorry for the people who died, for the people who were still fighting and for the destruction of the much loved city.
Next day my colleague mentioned about how she cried while driving back from office. Another colleague, born and brought up in Mumbai, said how for the first time ever he is actually scared of going to a theatre or a mall. The event has left a deep wound and possibly a permanent scar on the citizens of Mumbai. Not just the ones born and brought up here, but many others like me, who have come from all over the country to find their dreams, enchanted by the city and try to find home in the chaos.
I was tired from a long week of work and upset with these attacks. Around 7, I went to bed, in no mood to do anything else. My friend called up to ask for a dinner. He was at Café Mondegar during gunfire at Leopold. Despite the gloomy mood, I agreed to go out since he was leaving for Delhi the next day. On my way to the restaurant, the auto rickshaw guy kept talking about the attacks. Like every Mumbaiker, he also had his story to tell. He was at the signal when the taxi at Vile Parle blasted. He then asked me, in a very casual tone, if someone I knew died. I simply replied no. He then told me about the two of his neighbours who were killed, one of whom was supposed to leave for his village to meet his family the very night.
I reached the restaurant, completely disgusted at the utmost inhuman act and sorrowful for those who lost their families forever. My friends were waiting inside, upbeat about meeting after such a long time and recounting previous night’s ‘adventures’. I was somewhat surprised to see happy faces and light mood around me. I didn’t know whether to feel annoyed over their complete oblivion and disrespect to those who lost their lives or families or to welcome the happy mood like a breath of fresh air after a gloomy day. I was most surprised at the rather casual behaviour of my friend who had a pretty narrow escape the night before. For him, life moved on by the next day. But many others, who were not that lucky, would remain under grief for many more days to come.
Life would never be the same again. Not just for the ones who have lost, even for the ones like us, who watched the drama unfold on the TV screens from the safety of our homes. Mumbaikars will not feel safe in their own city for many more days to come. My colleague remarked that he might just avoid going to movies theatres or malls for some time now. The leaders up there say that Mumbai’s spirit will make the city bounce back and zooming with life in no time. But while walking down the roads, talking to the people on street, I find that spirit missing. I think everyone is tired of bouncing back; many are scarred for life and in grief. Most of us want to lie down quietly for some time and cry for the loss of our loved ones, for the sorry state of our beloved city. But we also know the professional city we live in, does not give us time for a break. There is work to be done, with much more urgency because we lost almost two working days over this mayhem. The work can’t wait, the business can’t wait, the world will not wait for us to get over our misery and move on. It’s not the spirit of Mumbai that brings it back with all its life and action; it’s the need of Mumbai. We will all be back to our work on Monday, the roads will again see heavy traffic, and the people will be running to catch the trains to their work. The attacks would reduce to a news story. But the pain and gloominess would stay with us somewhere during those free lunch hour conversations or the gossips around evening tea or even while driving back alone to home from work. This time, the pain refuses to go; it refuses to get overcome by the spirit of Mumbai.