By Mona Rajani (Choksi)
Mona Rajani (Choksi), daughter of Karuna and Bipin Choksi, is a garment exporter, married for 23 years, mother of two, and a regular citizen who just needed an outlet to express a lot of anguish at what happened on 26/11.
The world is a different colour today. It is grey and dull. There is heaviness in the air which presses down on me. I am filled with anguish. All around me people are talking about the same helplessness and their rage. This is the one emotion I cannot seem to muster up . There is despair and a huge amount of shame – shame for never feeling this despair before, but no rage. Mumbai has been faced with attacks from these heinous terrorists on several occasions in the past and recent past, but I have reacted with only lip service sympathy. Now I am shattered because this is MY neighbourhood, MY people. So who were all the other victims?
I need to get this down on paper so that I can deal with my churning head. It will come out disjointed and will have no direction, but it will fill the hollowness inside.
I’ve been watching endless news channels from Wednesday night, almost manically. I can’t bear to listen anymore, yet cannot stay away either. On some level there is a sense that if I keep listening I can feel that pain of those survivors and of those grieving families.
Thursday my nieces and I met a German lady who had jumped from one of the Taj windows to safety. Her boyfriend died in the attempt. My niece was full of compassion and was determined to help her. Taking a cue from one much younger, I too got mobilised into filling out some paper work for her and asking if she needed anything. My two nieces spent some time talking with her and comforting her, I crept away after a few minutes, crushed to see what she had gone through. Filling out an insignificant paper for her made me feel a millionth of a percent better. She flew out that same night with some broken ribs and a broken heart and I felt so helpless.
On Friday I went into work desperately trying for some normalcy. There was a pit in my stomach and tears were threatening to spill over. I tried sharing my feelings with some of my employees – colleagues with whom I work with every day. They had sympathetic expressions and in a few minutes went back to their tasks seemingly unmoved. For a second I was stunned, but then I got an even harder jolt as I realised this was usually MY reaction when faced with stories of a train blast or rioting, or shoot out in some vague corner of Mumbai. Is this how insensitive I am?
By Friday afternoon we had heard the terrible news that a couple who we knew – friends of friends – but with whom we had laughed with, dined with, were both gone. Shot dead. Shortly after that I heard 3 out of a family of 5 were also gone. Again people we knew. More people - my daughter’s teacher, a dear friend’s brother-in-law, my bhabhie’s childhood friend….it went on and on. So many people we knew or our loved ones knew. Then there were others we know who made it. But when talking to a friend whose son got home safely, I could tell she was hanging on to her gratefulness by a thin thread of faith in God. In her happiness was the terrible fear of what could have been and what may be round the corner.
Everyone says we should not let fear overcome us, as this is what the terrorists want. I too don’t want to live each day with fear, but it is very very hard, especially when dealing with the safety of one’s children. My son is often at Leopold and we go to Taj or Oberoi/Trident regularly. The thought of what could have happened to any one of us sets my heart pounding. Today my son says he’s thinking of going for a movie, and I hear myself begging him to wait for a few days. Is this right? I don’t know. I just know that I want to keep him safe. My daughter is away studying and I am so thankful.
Sunday was a day of condolences. We went to only two. Others had to visit four or five different venues! En route to our first destination we saw a large group gathering outside Nehru centre. I instantly connected with who this prayer meet was for – a young couple I read about in the papers. Peddar road was quiet but there were women in white waiting on the footpath on both sides of the road for someone picking them up to attend a bereavement prayer in both directions of town. It was an eerie sight.
By the time I entered the second condolence hall I was completely choked up. One look at the family members and the two sons who had lost both parents set me off and tears kept pouring down my face uncontrollably. Even though I didn’t know the couple so well, I was devastated by their death. I came out of that place retching and was sick to my stomach. I reached home and burst into sobs while my son awkwardly patted my back. After one storm of tears dried up, he said: “at least you can cry it out mum. I don’t even know how to show what I’m feeling.” That pierced my heart.
We are ranting and raving at our politicians and security heads, but we are ALL guilty of the state of our country today. None of us want to take any trouble to DO things to improve our environment, our government, our infrastructure, anything. All we do is complain and criticise and point fingers. I am ashamed. I want to make a change – right this minute. No more apathy. This is it. The time has come to take responsibility, to be accountable, for every small thing needed in our society, our neighbourhood, our city, our state, our country. We have to stop looking for the easy ways out. Breaking a signal and getting caught we think nothing of offering a cop a folded note. Wanting a movie ticket for a new release, or a better darshan in a renowned temple, or jumping the line for a new passport, we so-called “educated elitist class” think little of passing around the green bucks. We are sitting ducks for these terrorists who will fuel our impotency by just getting us riled up at the very heads of our country and our police force who we have created. We are so busy criticising our own dismal country and hating our neighbours that their work is half over.
I don’t have any answers. I wish it would be as simple as “out with the old in with the new”. Changing a bunch of old politicians for a new set is not going to miraculously cure the disease which has spread. We need to believe in ourselves and then conduct ourselves with some integrity and accountability from the top down. There needs to be a sense of national pride. Sadly we elitists compare ourselves to the Americans or the Britishers, but do we ever liken ourselves to the “aam aadmi” or every day man on the street that probably has more patriotism in his one finger than we show in our whole body? We need better leaders – of that there is no doubt – but we need better citizens too! I need to BE a better citizen, and I don’t know yet how that is going to happen, but I HAVE to believe that this senseless tragedy has finally brought me to my senses.
Mona Rajani (Choksi) can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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