India’s 9/11

How My City Stood Up in the Face of Terror

Wednesday, November 26, 2008. The date is now touted as India’s 9/11.

All it took to lead me to panic was a one-line headline announcing the cold-blooded shooting of 50-odd people at a railway station in Mumbai. A railway station painfully close to where my parents work. A railway station some of my friends use every single day.

All I could do after my mind went numb was to frantically call my parents. Luckily they had reached home already before the events of the day began to unfurl. “The madness is just beginning,” I said to myself, as I started scanning the news online.

The stories announced mindless shootings all around Mumbai; a police car was hijacked, a gas station blown up, and guests at two major hotels were held hostage.

My beloved city was under siege. As I watched it all unfold on the television, all I could think of was my eighteen years living in Mumbai. Having hot chocolate once a year in the coffee shop at the Taj Mahal Hotel, my parents driving me to the Oberoi Trident to see the holiday decorations, watching movies at the Metro Theater, just wandering around on the seafront.

Now, all these places were covered under a blanket of fear. Even though I was physically half a world away, I felt like I was there — as it happened.

A lot of people would like to hope that what transpired in the next 60 hours was only a bad dream. Unfortunately, every Mumbaikar’s worst nightmare has come true. The terrorists lived up to their name; they instilled terror not just in everyone in Mumbai, but also in everyone even remotely associated with the city.

As the hours on the clock increased, so did the number of dead. At the end of the 60-hour drama, the official toll was close to 200 lives, though many believe that the actual number may be significantly higher than that.

My heart cannot help but reach out to those who were affected. Right from Hemant Karkare, the chief of the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS), who died valiantly, to the unsung civilians who went down — but probably not without a fight.

From the old parents who lost their only child, to Rabbi Holtzberg’s two-year old son, baby Moche, who probably does not even know what death means. The number of people affected is significantly higher than the number of people who died.

In no way can anyone say that this was just an attack on India. The dead include Indians, Americans, English, and Israelis, among others. But most importantly, the dead were human. Yes, the attacks were an attack on humanity.

And while tribute must be paid to those who lost their lives, we cannot forget those who put up a fight, and those who helped the people affected. Throughout the four-day ordeal, we heard stories of the hotel staff helping the hostages, of firemen not caring about their lives, doing their job while the attackers were still at large.

The photograph of a man carrying an injured person on his shoulders because there was no vehicle around will remain fresh in my mind for a long time. What gave me great hope was the unity of all people in Mumbai; even as the battle with the attackers was on, even as the city was volatile, close to 15,000 — yes, fifteen thousand — people attended the funeral of Mr. Karkare.

They were not just paying a tribute to a fallen soldier; they were also showing the terrorists their resolve and their unity. Today, that gives me great hope in this time of despair. While the terrorists may have been somewhat successful in terrorizing my city, its people refused to fall down. They decided to stand up together.

As long as that spirit resides in our hearts, no power can break us.

A friend of mine asked me this week, if I would be scared the next time I went home.

My answer was no. In fact, I will go home and visit all the places that were attacked, and like good old days will catch a movie in Metro, get hot chocolate at the Taj, absorb the holiday decorations at Oberoi Trident, and then wander around on the seafront. That will be my pilgrimage. That will complete my tribute.

Ankit Gordhandas is a member of the Class of 2010.