November 27, 2008

Last night, if you believe everything you see on television, everything changed. There were references to this being India’s September 11. On live television, anything goes. I was there with my pregnant wife and friends, stepping out of Gordon House after considering a meal, when a wave of people, crying, running, looking disoriented, swept onto our lane from Colaba Causeway and the Taj. One boy draped a coat around his inconsolable partner. She hunched, her face planted firmly in her palms. The boy looked behind nervously, and quickened his pace. I ran to them to ask what happened. “There’s been a shootout,” he said, walking on. Behind them, the crowd that began streaming into this lane grew seriously thick. They were running, the ones further behind going faster. “Gang war.” “Encounter.” I turned tail and ran indoors.

My god. I have never liked this city, but my god. All night long we stayed awake, hearing the muffled rumble of exploding grenades from two streets away. Sometimes we would hush each other and look around, our eyes asking, “Was that another…?” On television smoke rose as the dome took a pounding from inside, and a fire burned in one corner, lighting a century-old balcony that was in flames instantly, and just ash on the street minutes later. Gunshots rang out. Pigeons fluttered unwisely, taking flight from the dome after every tremor and sharp bang, and returning to a new resting place elsewhere on it. We wondered, of all things, about the art this hotel contained. It struck me then, and by struck I mean a deeper realization, that men like this care for nothing, for no human effort or endeavor with meaning, and they care not for the struggles and ambitions and dreams and so much pain that every man woman and child has come through to survive life, for theirs is an unthinking effort of destruction and despair, and there is no talking to them, for we cannot even be from this planet. I don’t pretend to love this city, but I feel for it, and with every explosion and every life taken, I felt my heart heardening. I heard the story, relayed by a cousin, of Hemant Oberoi’s awful time at the Taj. Oberoi is the head chef there. At a point, the police asked him and his staff to help evacuate guests through the escape. Once a batch of guests were on their way to safety, Oberoi and his 15 staff, who had barricaded the way with refridgerators, began to let a few more through. A gunman heard the commotion below in the stairwell and ran down. He pushed aside the fridges and sprayed the crowd before him. Oberoi saw at least three colleagues die. He and the rest escaped, making their way to the basement laundry room. They stayed quiet, mobiles on silent, for three hours until the army arrived. All the while, his wife, her nerves frayed, waited anxiously at home. All along, the gunmen fired without discrimination inside the hotel, like a perverse last stand.

My wife is expecting our first child. Just yesterday morning, as we took a rare walk, we wondered what sort of world we would bring a child into. We had worries about this city – the pollution and what it took out of you. Later that day, my friend Sonia startled me by raising the same question. I told her no other place offered the opportunities Bombay does right now, even if it sucked the life out of you.

This morning, when we learnt of the impending curfew, we jumped into our cars and sped back to the suburbs. The army was everywhere. The roads were empty. Yet some joggers trotted by on Marine Drive. Men and women, freshly bathed, waited at bus stops. I watched a man raise his store’s shutters, and it made me disproportionately happy.

We hurried home, slowing down only when we reached Andheri. Colaba, 30 kilometers away, felt like a different city. The night felt like a dream.


16 Responses to “Nightmares”

  1. […] Done On the Go with Lotus Notes – Will Traveler Make it Easy?Where Is My India?The True BelieverNightmaresA Night Out In Mumbai (Updated)links for 2008-11-26Only Five Is What I Want…Atlas Shrugged, […]

  2. […] who was around the Taj with friends and his pregnant wife narrates his personal account: On television smoke rose as the dome took a pounding from inside, and a fire burned in one corner, […]

  3. kamla bhatt Says:

    Rahul: I hope your wife has recovered from the horrible trauma you all went through. We can only get a small sense of how bad things must have been. Thanks for sharing your story.

    All the best and be safe.


  4. Nikhil Verma Says:

    We can only remember today, and take steps to not letting it happen again. enough is enough. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  5. […] time): Three dramatically different first-hand accounts of the same #mumbai terror incident from Rahul, Amit and Sonia. It’s impossible to guess from the posts that they were stranded together at […]

  6. pi Says:

    my prayers go out to you and your family.

  7. SeaBix Says:

    Fascinating and painful to read Rahul.

    I wonder if other nations will now remain so confident in continuing to denigrate the U.S. for our reactions in response to 9/11. Probably.

    Your personal concerns for your family are no different than ours were. And are. But it seems that mobilizing world opinion to eradicate this threat may only come one country at a time.

    Thanks for this personal story.

  8. Chris Estes Says:

    Best wishes to you in your family in this troubling time.

  9. writinggb Says:

    I’m so sorry for you and your wife. I hope she will be able to stay calm and try to relax. I know how scary it is to bring a child into the world in the best of circumstances. But do not give way to the terror these people are trying to foster.

    I wish you peace and safety.

  10. Reading this after 96 hours still takes me back to the North East ULFA movement. But this is Urban Mumbai. Whilst I cannot advise you on family matters, reading your written words, I am sure you & your wife have the strength to arrive at the right & correct decision. My Best Wishes.

  11. […] And these pieces, on their blogs, by Amit Varma, Sonia Faleiro and Rahul Bhatia. […]

  12. Arathi Says:

    Hi Rahul, it must have been a harrowing experience..never been to mumbai myself..but am sure that the spirit of Mumbaikars just got for u’r worry about the world our children will live in…no place is safe…parents need to provide children a holistic environment…which I am sure all of us can..Yes We Can!!!

  13. RAJ Says:

    Hi Rahul. Thanks for sharing. I have a blog covering the very best views and news on terrorism in India at The goal is influence positive change in India on all fronts. I will be adding to it daily. Hope you can take a look. Let me know if you have any feedback.

  14. nandhu Says:

    may be it’s perverse to say this, but wonderfully written. you write as you saw it and through you we see it too! keep up the good work

  15. […] bloggers posted first hand updates during the three day crisis (Amit Varma, Sonia Faleiro, Rahul Bhatia, Arun Shanbhag), several others live-blogged reactions on legacy media news, and some of us played […]

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