I’m scared. And so are my parents, and my friends, and their friends. Because for the first time, our Bombay has been attacked; not Mumbai – but my Bombay.
For better or for worse, my Bombay consists of a very small part of the actual city - Bandra, Fort, Peddar Road, Malabar Hill, Nepeansea Road, and perhaps a couple of other neighborhoods, and my Bombay only has about 50,000 people in it, if that. For better or for worse, the affluent set here live in a city of their own – not physically demarcated as it is in Karachi (or as I imagine it to be from what I’ve been told), but separate enough in its own right. And today, for the first time, it was that city that was attacked. I don’t mean to lessen the horror of the train attacks of 2006 or even the bomb blasts of 1993, and I definitely don’t intend to discern between the value of a life that was lost at the Taj versus one that was lost on the railroad tracks two years ago – I’m just saying that this is the first time that I, personally, feel targeted.
Everyone I grew up with has some memory at either the Taj or the Oberoi. Everyone. After Honors Day (the day at the end of the school year when those that had excelled in academics were rewarded) every year, my parents took me to the Sunday brunch at Palms (a restaurant at the Oberoi) – an experience I treasured infinitely more than the actual prize itself (a certificate along with a Rs. 25 voucher to Strand Book Store). I’ve been for numerous birthdays to the Golden Dragon, Shamiana and the Sea Lounge. For years and years, Zodiac Grill was the single most expensive restaurant in Bombay, and as a kid, it was always a dream of mine to go there. It represented something special – something adult. Of course, when I finally did eat there, while the meal was delicious, it did not, and could never have, live up to the expectations my 8 year old self had set up. Regardless, it was an institution.
To focus on the more immediate, I landed in Bombay two Fridays ago. My first night, I went to the Yacht Club, Thams and Gordon House, all of which are within a 2 minute walk of the Taj. Two nights after, I was at Joss, five minutes from the Taj. A couple of days later, I watched a movie at Inox – the mall where people were evacuated to from the Oberoi. This past Tuesday, I played basketball a few steps from Leo’s. Putting myself aside, a friend of mine was at Leo’s till 8PM on Wed night. Two other friends were shopping at the Taj till around the same time. A former teacher from my high school lost her life. As did the parents of six kids that currently go there. And my parents’ friend’s uncle. Etc, etc, etc. While thankfully all of my close family and friends are safe, I can’t say the same for tons of acquaintances and their relatives.
To truly understand the toll the attacks have taken on this city, one really needs to differentiate between a bomb blast and what we’ve just been through. Again, I’m not saying bomb blasts aren’t horrific – of course they are, but this was a siege. It went on for three days. And every morning felt like a fresh attack, a new wound. People didn’t leave their houses for two days, and a lot of people still haven’t. I ventured out beyond my immediate neighborhood for the first time since the attacks today – but only because I’m leaving tomorrow. My family and I went to dinner at a restaurant which is normally packed most days of the week. Needless to say, despite it being a Saturday night, we had no trouble getting a table. The roads, while somewhat busy, seemed to lack Bombay’s bustle. This is a city where you could get stuck in a jam well past midnight – but at 9PM on a Saturday night, I didn’t have to yell angrily at an incompetent driver even once. Perhaps it is partly my imagination, but that too tells its own story.
People always talk about how it isn’t safe for girls to stay out in Delhi past a certain hour, and conversely, how Bombay is safe for everyone, practically any hour of the day or night. A close friend of mine is getting married and moving to Delhi soon, and her biggest fear has been just that – Delhi isn’t safe for girls past a certain hour, and when she has visited Delhi, she has physically felt it: that uncomfortable pit in one’s stomach when one is not at ease. She woke up crying this morning because, for the first time in her life, she felt it in Bombay.
I can’t stress enough how weird, and unsettling and scary this is, simply because we haven’t felt it before. What makes it even worse is the ease with which these 20 motherfuckers held the entire city at ransom. And the fact that we don’t know where anywhere between 2 to 5 of them are. What’s to say they aren’t hanging out in an apartment somewhere, waiting for this to tide over before they hit the Marriot, or the Sheraton or any one of ten different targets? Worse still, this attack has a face. With a bomb, one doesn’t get to see the perpetrator. In this case however, we have the chilling images of those two cunts dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, walking around with MP-6s – absolutely maniacal looks on their faces. That was one of the most chilling images I have seen in my life; I had to look away. I want to say that I felt hatred, but I think that’s too strong a word – because then I’m not really sure how to describe what he felt towards us.
On an entirely personal note, over the last few years, I have developed a strong desire to visit Pakistan. All four of my grandparents are from either Karachi or Hyderabad, and I’d really like to see their houses, or at least the sites where they once stood. I’d also like to see the places I’ve heard so much about from my friends – the many phases of Defense, Clifton, the beach, the restaurants and yes, even Nazimabad. I want to see it all so that I can picture what my friends are talking about when they relate stories from their childhood or the last time they were home. A few of my friends have been, and are, getting married, but for one reason or another, I haven’t been able to make any of the weddings thus far. But I pledged to make it soon – either this December, or next summer. Now, I don’t think I can. Obviously I know that my friends had no part to play in any of this, or that the Indian government has proved beyond doubt that Pakistani organizations, state sponsored or not, had anything to do with this, but if it does turn out that these terrorists were somehow helped / trained / funded / anything by a Pakistani organization, I don’t think I could visit until and unless significant steps are taken by the government to truly fight terror. It just wouldn’t feel right. I know that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it means something to me.
I know that the above is a little jumbled but I had a bunch of different thoughts that I wanted to put down, and I sort of just wrote them in that order. Moreover, the jumble sort of reflects the bizarre mix of emotions most of us have gone through – worry, terror, shock, and above all else, disbelief – a complete and utter lack of comprehension. In any case, I don’t have the patience nor the inclination to go back and edit this, because quite frankly, I don’t want to think about it anymore. I’m somewhat lucky, I guess, in that I get to leave this mess behind and resume my life in New York tomorrow – because that’s often what it feels like I lead: two parallel lives – one in the States, and one in Bombay. But the important distinction is that I always come back to this one, not the other way around, because regardless of how many years I spend in the States, or London, or anywhere, Bombay will always be my home. Sadly, I no longer feel safe at home.