Last year I was lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving in the motherland of the holiday, USA. I was in Denver, Colorado on a client assignment. To celebrate the long weekend, my colleagues and I decided to take a trip to Las Vegas. Being our first trip to the gambling capital of the world, it was highly anticipated by us.
We were to leave early morning on 27th November, a Thursday. The day before, we were at work, making final presentations and getting sign-offs from the client. The general mood across the team and in the office was of joyous celebration. We had managed to meet the project deadlines and deliver satisfying results to the client and were all set to celebrate the results of our hard work with a terrific weekend getaway.
Then I got a message from a friend back home in Bombay. His conversation stated that portions of the city’s downtown were under siege by some terrorist outfit.
The date was November 26th, 2008. The siege he referred to was the terrorist attack on the metropolis that began at approximately 9:30 PM and lasted for a gut-wrenching sixty hours.
We immediately scoured the internet to obtain some sort of video footage of the attacks. News Channels were broadcasting the grotesque incident live via their web channels. What we saw, we could not believe. Glimpses of men dressed in casual attire wielding Ak-47s and hand grenades at the Taj Mahal hotel. The five-star hotel had been turned into a battle-ground.
Elsewhere other members of the terrorist group had taken siege of various locations across the southern tip of Bombay. Restaurants, hospitals, train stations, schools, these men had not shown any remorse of mercy in their choice of targets and victims. Their motive was plain and simple. Death to all!. All of it seemed surreal, almost unimaginable.
What seemed like an eternity was in fact 60 hours. Almost three days, the city was held captive on in its own turf by terrorists. The outcome? Over 148 civilians died, 14 police officers and 2 Commandos lost their lives, several were badly injured and the city that everyone thought was indestructible was brought to its knees.
Bombay has had its share of disasters, natural or otherwise. As a citizen of the bustling metropolis, I have witnessed most of them. The communal riots of 92, the tragic bomb blasts that ensued the year after, the deluge of 26/7 in 2005, the local train blasts in 2006. These are some of them many events that have been etched in my memory. But there was something different about the attacks on 26/11. Something that made the entire episode seem not only tragic but alarming.
Although I was not in the city, when the tragedy occurred, my family and friends were. My father and brother work at office complexes in the Nariman Point area, which is close to Colaba. My grandmother lives at Vile Parle, where a taxi cab exploded . Many of my friends live near the CST station area, where one terrorist was on a shooting rampage with his rifle. Thankfully none of them were harmed, this time.
Flash forward to one year later, today. A lot has happened since that fateful day. But the memory of the tragedy still haunts us. For most they are only images that we saw on the television, articles we read in the newspapers. But for those who were caught in the middle of the maelstrom, the day is a grim reminder of the tragedy that befell them and a date that will be forever etched in their memories.
And the media is not helping in easing the pain either. Barely a week before the first anniversary of the terrorist attack, electronic and print media have been capitalizing on the event. With “Special Reports”, “Exclusive Footage” and purple prose editorials, the media moguls are leaving no stone unturned to cash in on this tragedy. Even a cellular network operator is riding the wave with its own “tribute” to the heroes who sacrificed their lives to end the tragedy.
Noble as their intentions may be, one can’t help but wonder, if all of this is but another way to publicize their own brands under the guise of nobility. But hey, that’s just the pessimist in me talking. Who knows? Perhaps we are witnessing a strong social sensibility among the corporates.
Another and a far more important question is this – Has justice been served? A year after the attacks, we have one terrorist under custody awaiting trial, The governments of India and Pakistan are playing ping-pong with dossiers, the “Super Powers” of the world have yet to take a firm stand and plenty of unanswered questions.
So what are we celebrating after one year? From what I can tell, we can celebrate this, the simple fact that we are here. that the city has bounced back and that you and I can celebrate this Thanksgiving without incident.
But wait, didn’t we already do that after the bomb blasts of ’93? And wasn’t this the same attitude adopted by us in response to 11/6 local train bombings? Sensing a pattern?
It is nice to know that as a city we have repeatedly emerged from our darkest hours as victors. But after a certain point that should not all that we should aspire towards. Rising from the ashes like a phoenix is fine, but striking the enemy in the gut is better. We need our government to take decisive action not only against the terrorists themselves, but also against those who are guilty of supporting such terrorist outfits.
So people, let us celebrate Thanksgiving this year. But let us celebrate this Thanksgiving to honor and thank the souls who went beyond the call of duty to secure our freedom on this day, one year ago and even before that. Let us give thanks to the fact that you and I are still here to remember this day thanks to their actions.
But let us not just stop at giving thanks. Let this day remind us of something even more significant, that terrorism is very much an issue for all nations, developed or otherwise. We can no longer turn a blind eye towards the tyranny of a group of people and lead our lives in oblivion. Make no mistake, this is a war, one in which the enemy is prepared to strike innocent civilians like you and me.
Fighting this war on terror and winning it for our future generations will hopefully earn us our due thanks in the Thanksgivings to come.