A few days after the Mumbai terror attacks, as we attend the funerals and memorial services of friends, family members, colleagues and loved ones, and I sit down to write this, my feelings are a curious mixture of sorrow, anger and complete and utter helplessness.
There’s sorrow for the loss of life, anger about the ease with which our lives have been violated and helplessness about how we can cope with this vicious onslaught that has been unleashed upon us.
Mingled with all that is, of course, fear.
Fear of going to our usual haunts which have proved so vulnerable to terrorist assaults. Fear of what may lie around the next corner as we make our way to work every day. Fear of being attacked in our own homes and our offices. Fear of never ever feeling safe again.
And I suspect that this is how most Indians feel today. It doesn’t matter whether they live in one of the big metros or in small towns. It doesn’t matter if their neighbourhoods have been attacked or not. It doesn’t matter whether they have lost a loved one to terrorist bullets and bombs or not. No matter where we live, all Indians share the sorrow and anguish of Mumbai. And know that it could just as easily have been them mourning the loss of loved one. It could have been them bearing up against an assault on their lives.
But these terror attacks are much more than that. They aren’t just an assault on our lives; they are an assault on our way of life as well.
Of course the terrorists wanted to inflict maximum damage. We are told that they wanted to kill 5,000 people. They had plans to blow up both the Trident and the Taj. They had planted RDX bombs that fortunately were defused by the bomb squad.
But they wanted to do much more than that. Their aim was to scare us out of our wits. They wanted us to feel unsafe and vulnerable for the rest of our lives. They wanted to change the way we live forever.
So, today as we try and recover from the pain and grief of the past week, let’s make one promise to ourselves. We will not let them succeed in that.
They may have killed hundreds of people; they may have destroyed iconic landmarks of Mumbai. But we will not let them destroy our way of life.
We will not be scared of going into movie halls and malls for fear that they may be terrorist targets. We will not forgo eating out in restaurants for fear of being blown up. We will not be afraid of checking into five-star hotels for fear that they may be targeted yet again.
We will not allow the terrorists to dictate the terms of our lives from now on. If we do that, then they have won anyway.
The only way we can overcome our anger, our sorrow, our fear, and yes, our helplessness is if we take some control over our own lives and live them on our own terms. The only way we can stand up to these terrorists is to make it clear that no matter how much damage they inflict they will never ever change us.
So, let’s not cower in fear in our homes. Let’s not look at Indians of other faiths and persuasions with suspicion. Let’s not knock our democracy and ask for authoritarian rule. Instead, let us all take a pledge to live life the way we always have.
I know that things look bleak now. But we are not alone in this battle against terrorism. Britain has suffered from terrorist strikes ever since the days of the IRA and more recently from the 7/7 bombers.
In Israel, suicide bombers blow themselves up in
markets and buses more frequently than you can possibly imagine.
And yet, these countries have managed to preserve their way of life despite being under constant threat. So, how could we as proud Indians possibly do less?
My favourite image of the past week is that of the Leopold Café opening its doors to customers once again, just days after it had been sprayed with bullets. The owner poured out a pint for a customer and announced proudly to the TV cameras recording the moment, “If my shutters had stayed down, they would have won. I will never let them win.”
That’s the spirit that we should try and emulate. Our shutters will not stay down. We will not let them win.