26 November 2009

26/11

it's the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in mumbai. i remember the day last year, to me it felt eerily like 9/11, roiling feelings of dread and nervousness, not knowing what's going on, wishing you were there while thankful that you're not. i was teaching as the news trickled in, trying to get in touch with friends in school and outside of school, trying to get news on the internet while not neglecting my students.
this one the first attack outside of the US that i could remember where they targeted foreigners. the terrorists entered mumbai from the water, at the Gateway of India, the monument built by the British, from where the British left in 1947 when India got their independence. it's in the Colaba district, a very touristed area. some travelers to Mumbai only ever see colaba, it's where the guest houses are, where many hotels are. When we started hearing about what places were being attacked, I shuddered. I had been to almost every one. Leopold's cafe. The Taj Mahal Hotel. Victoria Terminus (now officially called CST) train station, the Ville Parle Train Station. and the Nariman House, home to Chabad. While i had never been there, i had been to synagogues in mumbai, which has a pretty good sized Jewish population, 3 or 4 active synagogues, and a Chabad house for locals and Israeli and other Jewish travelers. jewish people were targeted. they also looked to single out those holding american or british passports. The attack lasted 3 days, and 166 people were killed.
i was already planning on coming to India, and this only made me feel more strongly about it. and while i didn't know where in the country i would be placed by AJWS, i was starting to feel that i would end up here in mumbai. and i have.
and i love this city. it's exciting, beautiful, exhilarating. it's on the ocean so there are beaches and there is hardly any pollution. it's very diverse with significant muslim, christian, buddhist, sikh, jain and jewish populations, as well as many western expats, and we all get along. (the muslims here don’t understand the radicalization of pakistan and they condemn the attacks as much as anyone.) there are hopping clubs and quiet temples, there are caf├ęs and parks and seaside promenades, there are film shoots happening all the time, and the food is amazingly fantastically delicious and healthy.
the city has bounced back since last year, as india always bounces back from invasions, introductions of new religions, traumatic events and everything else. it’s all absorbed, transformed, and integrated into her. we are all mumbaikars and we love our city. we will never forget the victims of 26/11, and the heros that day. the train announcer who calmly told people to leave the station from the rear exit, over and over, until the terrorists found him and shot him. the group of young Sikhs who brough food and water to the security forces battling the terrorists. the muslim chai-wallah (tea-seller) who ran into the station and helped people to leave and then served tea to survivors and reporters covering the story. the police and other officials who fearlessly walked into the maelstrom, like the firefighters did on 9/11. the caretaker of the baby at the chabad house, who snuck the child out even as the rabbi and his wife were being killed. the workers and guests at the hotels who fought back, knew where and when to hide, how and when to escape, and saved many lives in the process. we remember the fallen and the survivors, and we come together not in fear but in love, in democracy and freedom.
living well truly is the best revenge.

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