Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A footnote of History

In a way, I witnessed the unfolding of a minor footnote of history on Sunday. Both the Taj and the Trident re-opened to public on the same day. And since we happened to be in town that day, we decided to drive by the Taj, and so heavy was the security around the hotel, we merely managed to get ourselves stuck in yet another traffic jam.
According to the newspapers, people thronged to both hotels on the first day itself – the restaurants had enough patrons to justify a discrete waiting list, room occupancy was about 60%, and many survivors made it a point to re-visit the place to try and put the past behind them.
To the world, Bombay has bounced back.
But I am not too sure about it.
To me, the more important landmark I drove past on Sunday was the erstwhile Victoria Terminus. Arguably the most majestic building in the city, she has evidently had a make over since I last saw her at night many years back. Bathed in the bright light cast by dozens of concealed lamps, she looked much more beautiful than I remembered her as being. Even on a Sunday evening, the station was as busy as ever, with passengers hurrying about oblivious equally to the grandeur around them, and to the fact that the station had been the scene of a gruesome carnage not four weeks back.
To me, the people at the station summed up the real resident of Bombay – the man who knows he can be killed any day, but who doesn’t dare think about it, because thinking about it doesn’t change anything, or the woman who knows nothing is certain except the fact that no matter what, she will have to continue waking up long before day-break and struggling to the day merely to survive.
The average resident of Bombay doesn’t overcome, transcend, or challenge fear - she merely co-exists with it, and ignores it the way she would the lady who’s smelly armpits are thrust beneath her nose all the way from Borivili to Churchgate. It is not resilience that makes the average resident of the city bounce back, it is the knowledge that there is no option but to carry on regardless.
It is the privileged minority that dared think they were immune to the attacks that ordinary mortals were exposed to. It is the people who travelled in chauffer driven BMWs and Mercs that believed that terrorists hit out only at the people who travelled by public transport. It is the people who frequented five-star hotels who thought that you could get blown up only while consuming a vada pav at the roadside thelagadi.
This time round, those people were also targetted, and because they have never known what it is to live with fear, they crumbled like the others could never afford to.
Which is why such a big deal is being made of the re-opening of the Taj and the Trident. But nobody even took note of the fact that there passengers were using Victoria Terminus even before the bloodstains were washed away from the floors.

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