Friday, December 5, 2008

The city that was…

The word “terror” means a lot more today. It began to mean a lot to me not on the day the attack happened, but recently, when I witnessed an attack of another kind. It was a week since then. It was the Tuesday of the Peace March at Gateway. I was reluctant to go there first when I heard about the huge numbers gathered. Why add to their troubles, I asked myself. But then I heard an acquaintance needed help distributing some leaflets there. Something about starting an awareness group. Well, I believed this was a little more constructive that lighting a candle and wishing terrorism flies out of our lives, so off we were to Gateway.
Seven of us from Wilson College walked upto Gateway with a simple placard in our hand. It read-“One Month from now, will you still care?”
We walked all along Marine Drive, crossed over at Oberoi, past Mantralaya and to Regal. Everywhere people looked at the placard with curiosity, to say the least. On the way I also witnessed an odd phenomenon. Generally people on Marine Drive sat for hours on end, staring at the water, the setting sun, the city skyline. Today it was different. Opposite the Trident, people sat the other way. To hell with the sun, broken glass was the new tourist attraction of the city. TV cameras still rolling and Mumbaikars in every shape and size available were speculating where exactly the terrorists were taking people hostage that day and which window the commandos shot at. Even as the police and the management struggled to piece the hotel together, onlookers enjoyed themselves.
I feel ashamed of my city and its people today.
Gateway was another story altogether. There wasn’t an inch of empty space to stand on. But just as I was filling up with pride to see so many people wanting to make a difference, a chill ran down my spine. Forgive the cliché, but a huge contingent of hotel management students marched past me screaming and shouting slogans. They were followed by many more such parties. Anti-Pak campaigning seemed to be the theme of the day. It was scary, to say the least.
We stood there, three of us, as the others went ahead, squeezing through the flood of human bodies. I use this word because most of them there were incapable of being called people…living, loving,thinking entities. It was just a lot of anger manifesting itself in so many people. I couldn’t find any peace in this peace rally.
Film stars gathered, so did the press. But I increasingly began to lose sight of the objective of this meet. Were we here to vent our frustrations? Were we here to shout swearwords to the citizens of another country? Were we here to belittle ours by singing contrived and superficial salutations? What were we doing?
The ‘PEACE’ rally took wearing-patriotism-on-your-sleeve to a whole new level. There were flags everywhere. Mindlessly people waved them and screamed obscenities to Pakistan and our own politicians.
I felt scared. I felt this city scarred. There was no place to put this anger away. Even elderly, wise-looking ladies and gentlemen were spitting bile. My city was no longer the place I loved so much. It was no longer a place where people were at peace with themselves…and we speak of peace in the world.
I cried that day, on the long ride home. I crossed the whole of south Bombay and up to Santacruz. I mourned for the city that was. I cried for the peace that never will be.

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