19:10 PM, Mumbai
I was getting my daily dose of the soap opera when the BREAKING NEWS – “3 blasts in the city” “Blasts reported by eye witnesses, no confirmation from the police yet” hit me. Tears welled up in my eyes the same instant and refused to leave for the next five minutes. No – the tears were not out of fear for my loved ones but out of fear for every single person who lives and toils in this city.
While the impact of these blasts consumed my insides, I tried to keep my calm and started calling friends and family. Millions in the city and outside were doing just the same; the result of which were the jammed phone lines. I logged on to twitter hoping to see tweets from friends to know they were safe. Messages poured from friends across the world asking if I was okay. I thanked them for keeping me in their prayers and replied that I have now learnt (yet again) to take one day at a time; just like I do after every single attack on the city.
An American friend who lives in Bellflower, a suburb of Los Angeles(LA) found it difficult to place this attack on what he calls a ‘relatively non-violent’ mega city of Mumbai. Having lived in Mumbai for a brief period two years ago, he sometimes felt somewhat safer in Mumbai than in LA. The drive-by shootouts, high drugs and weapons trade in segregated communities of LA (and several other American cities) have put fear in him too. But in LA he finds himself retreating in to his car, while in Mumbai he immerses himself in to the crowd on the streets. A profoundly different social experience, as he likes to put it. He appreciates the fact that he cannot think of too many places in Mumbai that one may just stay away from at night, whether on car or on foot, unlike in LA where he knows of several such places. Yes, Mumbai does not see drive-by shootouts as often as LA does, but like everybody else in the city he may fear the unclaimed bag or vehicle parked on the crowded streets of Mumbai. The fear, he cannot abandon.
A fellow Mumbaikar who now lives and works outside the city recalls his first reactions of feeling an absolute pit in his stomach, as he rushed to call his family. When the panic subsided, he could only feel absolute anger. He refuses to buy in to this “resilient spirit” of the city that the news channels harp about every time there is a blast. He believes that the resilience is just a mask the citizen puts on every day to escape the travesty of the situation. For the ones who are safe cannot afford to be bothered anymore and choose to continue on the roads they travel every day. Like thousands in the city, every time my best friend takes on the local train, he is scared to his guts. He is watching out for every single bag that looks abandoned. He does the same when is traveling in a bus. The “resilient spirit” does not put his fears to rest.
When the early reports broke out, a friend in another city felt that the attacks were not serious as no one was reported dead then. I wonder if it is serious only when lives are lost and families are destroyed? Again, how many lives do we have to lose at that for it to be serious? Is it not enough that these attacks have succeeded in instilling the fear, pain and anger in us time and again?
As my own initial feelings of sadness are passing away slowly, I can feel a sense of betrayal take over. Being betrayed by the authorities meant to keep the city safe, I feel cheated of my right to lead a life free of fear. Or maybe I lost that right over the last ten years during which Mumbai has been attacked no less than seven times. I now worry for my friend’s month-old baby as I think of how he may be brought up to be afraid not only of all new and unknown but also the known. In trying to keep him safe every day, his parents may never teach him to take on new roads in life, embrace new things or new people.
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