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‘Am I responsible?’

india Updated: Dec 26, 2008 14:54 IST
Shashi Baliga
Shashi Baliga
Hindustan Times
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Every evening, tarot reader and arts consultant Roopa Patel drops in to have dinner with her 84-year-old mother Jyotsnaben at her home in Shreyas, an apartment block opposite the Air-India building at Marine Drive.

Around 10.20 pm on November 26, Roopa and her son Anirudh had finished their dinner at Shreyas. As Anirudh was staying back with his grandmother, Roopa left for their apartment on Marine Drive’s A Rd, where she lives with Anirudh and her husband Anup Kumar Bhardwaj.
Looking the other way: Citizens must accept some of the blame for the crisis Mumbai finds itself in, believes tarot reader Roopa Patel. Witnessing the horror unfold at the Trident from her apartment made South Mumbaikar Roopa Patel bury her political apathy. (Hemant Padalkar/HT)

She was at the corner of the Air India building when she heard the first blast. A fire cracker, she thought. But an eerie silence followed by a frantic commotion made her rush back to her mother.

There, from the balcony of the fifth-floor apartment they could not only hear the firing and the blasts but see into the rooms on the far side of the Trident. At one window, Anirudh glimpsed a man clad in black, opening the curtains with his gun: Was he a terrorist? The face of evil? They will never know.

Roopa saw “the bodies, the blasts, the pain of the relatives, the shock and the night-long burning.” And most horrifying of all, “We could see people at their windows, waving desperately, trying to get people's attention, asking for help,” she recalls. “And we could do nothing for them. Did they die or were they saved — the question still haunts me.”

There was no respite from the horror — inside, the three of them sat transfixed by the images unfolding on TV. “It was unreal, like watching two different movies on the same event,” she remembers.

And painful too — “The Oberoi was like our backyard. I have all my meetings there, I go shopping there, we used to take Aniruddh there to see the Christmas tree. That night saw the destruction of so many memories.”

Why did this happen, she asked herself. Then, “Another question came unbidden... was I in any way responsible for any of this? I pushed the thought away but it came again and again. And I asked myself: Have I done all that I can to make this city safe? Have I done my bit?”

The answer was no, she admits. “Was I not responsible for the government that was responsible for this? We have a say, but we don't exercise it because we are too genteel to dirty our hands with politics. Have we not sat quiet when a politician mouthed inane platitudes because it is so easy to shut our ears?

“Have we not looked the other way when someone spat on our roads or threw garbage on them? We set aside time for our families, relatives, friends, colleagues, even distant acquaintances. But how much time do we give our beloved city?” she argues.

“Something died in me that night,” she says. “But a new responsibility has been born.”