It still seems like yesterday. Back then, I worked with one of the Big 4 companies. That day, I was at a client site, which was in Colaba. Colaba had charm; an old-world beauty, dilapidated buildings, small bakeries and eateries, the smell of the sea, the majestic Gateway and of course, the Taj. As soon as I crossed CST or Victoria Terminus, as it is still called, I would get transported to a different world. Being able to spend about three months of my life there seemed like a dream to me.
Colaba Causeway. Image courtesy: Dinodia Mumbai Photos
So yes, the rigour of the engagement got a trifle compensated by the beauty that Colaba was. That night, as I was wont to do, I dined at Theobroma’s. As I bit into the soft Millionaire Brownie, I was blissfully unaware of what was going to transpire in a matter of minutes. With my hunger satiated, I started heading home in a faithful ‘kaali-peeli’ (the yellow-black taxis that ply in Mumbai). I crossed Leopold’s Cafe without giving it much thought. I had never really been awed of the place as many are. And then I crossed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or Victoria Terminus or CST or simply VT, marvelling yet again at its beautiful architecture. It was about 9 pm then.
Chabad House. Image courtesy: Chabad.org
Those were the days when I stayed in upmarket South Bombay or SoBo as Mumbaikars love to call it. So I was home within minutes. I found my flatmates glued to the television.
“What’s up girls?”
“There’s shooting in VT. A few men are gunning down people.”
Whoa! What? I was there about 10 minutes back. It was all peaceful then. The news anchors were speculating. It seemed like a gang war in progress. I thought to myself – ‘Weren’t gang wars a part of the 90s?’ I watched on for some time but as I grew impatient with the repeated news, I retired for the night, thinking, ‘It’s Mumbai. Something or the other keeps happening here.’
The next morning hit hard. And I mean HARD! SMSes from office started pouring in (There was no WhatsApp back then, folks). ‘Do not step out of your houses.’ ‘Stay safe.’ My phone rang incessantly; family and friends asking if I was fine. And then I came to know. Terrorist attack. No, it was actually a TERRORIST ATTACK.
The day was spent in front of the television, trying to ascertain the extent of the attack. Images of Chabad House, Leopold, Oberoi, Taj and VT kept flashing on the screen. The only thought that struck me was – you need immense planning to carry out something like that. Soon, as stories of death, despair, and heroism started pouring in, the thoughts turned to frustration and to grief. Why do we, the common people, have to bear the brunt, when we’re peacefully going about our lives? What was God thinking when S/ He inflicted such pain on so many? Eyes turned moist; a cold hand gripped the heart; and we knew history had been altered for India.
Taj Mahal Hotel. Image Courtesy: HD Wallpapers Wala
The next day, in office, nobody could concentrate on work. Rumours ran high. By about noon, we were advised to leave. This does not happen in Mumbai. Work never stops. But that day, even work stopped in Mumbai, a city I’d grown to like. After a couple of days, when the terrorists had been gunned down, and the dust was settling, I stepped out to pay my homage to those who were killed and those who laid down their lives.
Victoria Terminus. Image Courtesy: Round Trip
Tried as I may, I could not find Chabad House, which was okay with me as the thought of parents being killed and the son being rendered orphan was nauseating. At Leopold’s, the bullet marks screamed out their stories. I could almost hear the cheer and laughter being turned into fear and screams. At Oberoi, the shattered glass windows gave me a nasty reminder that I was there just a few days back to enjoy a breakfast. It hits harder when everyday parts of your life get impacted. At Taj, black smoke still billowed out of one of the domes. The hotel had an eerie silence after all that it had witnessed over the last few days. The dome and adjoining structures were blackened by soot. The soot was a grim reminder of the Black Wednesday that showed the world the best & the worst of humanity.
The Taj Mahal Hotel under Siege. Image Courtesy: Ramani’s Blog
A week after the attacks, Mumbaikars were out in hundreds for a candle march to the Gateway, expressing their solidarity with those who lost their lives. In my lifetime, I believe, and hope, that this was the worst that I had to see. Such was the effect that even after six years, I remember each detail. And, I do not think, I will be able to forget in this lifetime…