I, too, am a Mumbaikar today.
I wish I could reach out and for just one moment hold the hands of the woman in this AP photograph. Maybe shed some tears on her shoulder. But I do not know what I would say to her. I do not think she would want me to say much. The expression on her face matches the feeling I have at the pit of my stomach and in the depth of my heart. I think – I hope – that she would understand how I feel. I can only imagine what she is going through.
The solidarity I feel with Mumbaikars is deep and personal.
The first time I ever visited the Taj Mahal Hotel was with my wife. We had been married just weeks and were not staying at the Taj but went to the historic “Sea Lounge” at the hotel for tea and snacks during a short visit to Mumbai. We went to the Oberoi Hotel the same visit in the naive and mistaken belief that we would find Bollywood bigwigs hanging out there. In later years I would come back and stay at the old wing of the Taj – down the corridor from where Ruttie Bai Jinnah and stayed – I would even present in the grand ballroom whose pillars, supposedly, had been brought from her father’s estate. Each time I passed through Victoria Terminus I stood in awe of the pace as well as its presence. In awe of the architectural structure, but also of the sea of humanity around me. I cannot hear of terrorists attacking these places without my own muscles twitching in anger.
But my feeling of solidarity with Mumbaikars is much much more personal than these few fleeting visits over many years. Deeply etched into me are the horrific echoes of 9/11 in New York and the string of terrorist attacks on Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar and all over Pakistan whose reports have become all too familiar – but never bearable – on this blog. I know what living with terror feels like. I have thought too much and too deeply about what it feels like to be the target of violence propelled by hatred. I know the pain of helplessness one feels as one stands stunned in grief, wanting so desperately to do something – anything – but not knowing what to do. This is why I identify with the expression on the face of the woman in this picture. This is why, like so many others in the world, today I too am a Mumbaikar.
This is why I stand with Mumbaikars everywhere, in prayer and in solidarity. At a loss for words but with an urge to speak out. My words of condemnation will not change the actions of those who have committed such heinous murder and mayhem. Nor will my words of sympathy diminish the agony of the victims. But speak out I must. In condemnation as well as in sympathy. To speak against the inhumanity of hatred and violence. To speak for the humanity in all of us that we all must hold on to; especially in the testing moments of grave stress.
But, today, I have no words of analysis. What words can make sense of the patently senseless? I do not know who did this. Nor can I imagine any cause that would justify this. But this I know: No matter who did this, no matter why, the terror that has been wrought in Mumbai is vile and inhuman and unjustifiable. And, for the sake of our own humanness, we must speak out against it.
And, so, to any Mumbaikar who might be listening, I say: “I stand with you today. In prayer and in solidarity.”