I had actually forgotten that today was the sixth anniversary of perhaps the bloodiest, most violent event to grace the recent history of our country. It was after dinner—mom and me sitting in front of the TV for the late-night news. My exams were less than a week away and mom was badgering me to take the hike to my study. I noticed the programme that was being telecast.
It was the anniversary programme of the brutal terrorist attack on the Taj, the Oberoi Trident, Leopold Café and other places in Mumbai.
“Gosh mom! It is twenty-sixth of November today,” I said, checking the date on the helpful calendar on the wall.
“Hmm…yeah, it is. Which means just five more days till D-day. Why don’t you move yourself to your study like a good girl?” my mother muttered, reading something on her tablet.
I sighed as I commanded my legs to step down the bed and move towards the study.
Man, it has been six freaking years…
Six years ago, I was just a wee little fifteen-year-old kid whose only worry was to ace the weekly test in school. My hair used to be waist-length at that time; I fingered my shoulder-length hair in remembrance.
“Can I get my hair layered mom, please?”
“Of course not…I am not having you get into that salon nexus right now. Maybe when you hit senior secondary, I might think about it…”
I grinned at the memory.
I dragged out my Concrete Design textbook, staring at the Naruto stickers on the wardrobe which stood on the wall opposite to my study table.
I started watching that anime six years ago.
I remember how life was simpler back then—how I felt down in the dumps when I slid down to the second position. How YouTube felt like Elysium on a dinner-plate and NatGeo a video-encyclopedia. How advertisements often felt true and chocolates the only luxury.
How people were friends just because they connected and not because the person had extensive notes or a bulging wallet.
Life sure was simpler back then.
26/11 meant a whole lot more to me than a mere terrorist attack. It was a day when a lot of things began to change—carefree people became more focused, nation became more vigilant.
I still remember that day in crystal-clear detail.
I was studying in my room but decided to take a breather. I sauntered into the living room where mom was reading a novel whereas dad was swimming in his personal sea of papers. The news was on a low volume…the anchor apparently was in the middle of the daily debate. All the speakers seemed to scream their throats off—and seeing that in an almost-mute condition made the entire thing hilarious. Chortling, I tiptoed through the mess to the only armchair yet untouched by the paper-deluge as I attempted to peek into the chapter mom was reading. She immediately closed the book and flicked my forehead with her index finger.
“Owwie!” I groaned, rubbing the area.
“Don’t peek in like that…that’s bad manners, you know,” she said.
“You didn’t have to flick me on the forehead for that!” I said, my pride slightly ruffled.
“It’s almost nine-thirty…did you finish that mock question paper I had given you?” dad asked as he attempted to navigate through the white sea.
“Yep, I did that…even went through the ideal answers thingy,” I said, yawning.
“Okay, that’s good,” he nodded in acknowledgement before going back to his work.
I stared at the TV, subconsciously reading the headlines which rolled at the bottom banner of the screen as I thought about what to study next.
A random, yet unusual headline caught my attention.
“Dad, you have the remote, right? Mind turning up the volume a bit?”
He looked a little puzzled at my request but did it all the same.
“That’s strange. Some maniac shooting down the road in Mumbai? Have people of this world gone nuts or what?” my mom sighed, shaking her head before returning back to her novel.
Some fifteen minutes later, after mom threatened me with chocolate-deprivation I stood up to leave for another round of studying when another chilling newsflash made the three of us stare at the TV screen, mouths opening and closing like a goldfish.
“The Taj? The Trident? Shooting? And what’s with Leopold Café? What the heck’s exactly going on in that city?” mom voiced what I was thinking. Dad immediately raised the volume to the highest level possible for our ears to bear.
The anchor was yelling frantically on her microphone as sirens and yells of people punctuated the background.
The shooting at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus…the iconic Mumbai picture.
I sat down back again. My mind was miles away from gravitational physics at the moment.
We stayed put in front of the TV for perhaps the next three hours, changing through the various news channels for whatever extra news anyone could give us sitting a mere three hundred kilometres to the north of the city. Dad called up his friend who lived in Mumbai, asking him if he was safe. That look of relief on his face post the phone-call was indeed indicative to the tension he was having previously.
The Taj was the icon of the city, part of the picture, part of the dream which makes Mumbai first on everyone’s wishlist. You just don’t attack the Taj.
I felt like a three-year-old kid being told that Santa Claus’s just a figment of imagination.
The next day, it was the only topic to discuss. Class, canteen, washroom…everywhere, everyone was talking about it. Even sixth standard kids talked about it in hushed voices, voicing theories which bordered both on sheer reality and fantasy.
The first thing I did on returning home was to make a dash in to the living room. The TV was on (no surprises there) and the image of Taj’s burning dome was being run.
Then came the lists of casualties, people who died in the line of duty.
It felt unreal, more fantastic than the most ridiculous cartoon show on TV.
Truth is stranger than fiction.
Nothing could be more truer than that.
Three days later, the inferno came to an end. The commandos came up victorious, but at a price. Everyone from every section of the society—from the janitor to the most high-profile guest—had a story to tell. Like that manager who lost his entire family in the fire. Like the innocent guests who went in for a party and never came out. Like that student who was returning home from cram-school and was waiting for the train.
I, who was on the verge of leaving the room for another bout of physics, got an ugly dose of realism.
My classmate who was glad her father didn’t attend the party scheduled on that fateful day because he had a fever.
My neighbour who was beside herself with worry because her cousin often took the train from that station.
It felt as if every citizen of the country was connected with a common thread. Those sixty-two hours brought about an impact—big or small—in everyone’s lives.
Six years have passed since that day. I am now a twenty-one-year-old whose black-and-white view of the world has been tinted in various shades of grey.
But whenever I see or hear about that day, my eyes can’t help but dim a little. No, I wasn’t directly affected by it. But everyone would agree that the date has brought about something irreversible in our lives.
In future, it might become reduced to a paragraph of a history textbook, the casualties might become mere statistics. But for those who have witnessed it, be it through TV or on first-hand basis, it can never be forgotten.