The invitations were out, the caterer booked, the sweets distributed, the shopping over. The wedding was next week.
That is when the phone rang late Wednesday at the Patna home of software engineer Khusboo Jha. Hundreds of kilometres to the south in Mumbai, her fiancée Malayesh Banerjee, a venture capital executive, had been killed by terrorists as he dined with friends at Mumbai's Leopold Cafe.
Phones were ringing with news of death and injuries through the next several days in cities and towns around India. In India’s cosmopolitan hub, Mumbai’s terrorist attacks were India’s tragedy — possibly the first time when homes across the country were together affected by terrorism at such a staggering scale.
Three days ago, Jha’s doctor father and lawyer mother had completed a pre-wedding ritual sitting on a mat at their home in Patna’s Srikrishnapuri neighbourhood.
A thousand kilometres to the southwest in Indore, another coffin brought in another body on Friday. Neighbours rushed to help carry it to the home of 27-years-old Gaurav Jain.
Jain had finished dinner and was standing by the roadside with two friends on Wednesday night when terrorists fired from a moving police car they had seized.
He is survived by three sisters and his parents Kanta and Balchandra Jain, a retired government official. Gaurav Jain had completed his schooling from Indore before getting an MBA degree from Dubai, and working briefly in Singapore.
Minutes before the bullet got him, Jain had spoken to his mother Kanta, telling her about her day and that he was having dinner with friends.
Maibam Bimolchandra, 30, had last spoken to his parents in Manipur two days before he died. “He never wanted to work there (Mumbai)… he promised he would construct a new house for us. But everything is gone now,” said his father M. Nandababu, mourning at his home in the Khurai Ningthoubung Leikai village in Manipur’s Imphal east district. The son worked as an assistant manager at the reception of the Oberoi Hotel.
Three bullets hit Bimolchandra on Wednesday night, as he fell at the hotel lobby. Hundreds of men and women in traditional mourning attire took part in ceremonies held in Imphal and his native village before he was cremated.
Bimolchandra was a national handball player and had had represented Manipur in many national championships. He was to travel to Britain on December 1 for a six-month training course before a foreign posting.
“Everything was ready for it, but all of a sudden, it was all over,” said Nandababu, who works for the state’s public works department.
At another end of the country in Hyderabad, a family quietly mourned the 20-year-old woman who had just finished a day of sightseeing in Mumbai.
Ameena Begum, daughter of a labourer, stood at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), waiting to board the Devagiri Express to return home to Nizamabad, 180 kilometres from Hyderabad.
She was returning after 12 days of prayer from a Sufi shrine in Bijapur town, where she prayed that her poor health — which was affecting her seven-month-old marriage — be cured. Then she went to visit a sorcerer in Mumbai.
She wanted to come back soon.
That was when the terrorists started firing indiscriminately and she received three bullets — one in her jaw, another in the chest and the third in the stomach. The terrorists had noticed her as she stood up to pull her niece and father to safety.
Her teeth ripped out by the bullet, Ameena whispered to her mother Shanu Begum to give her some water. Within seconds, she was dead.
“What harm did Ameena do to deserve a death like this? Islam never teaches one to take another’s life,” said her father Rasheed, as he wept.
Lawyer Laxmi Narayan Goel, 55, from the Andhra Pradesh capital of Hyderabad had missed his return train to Hyderabad and rang his family from the CST station to inform them. Seconds after he boarded a taxi to his sister's home, it became a ball of fire after grenades thrown by terrorists exploded on it.
Goel (55) is survived by his wife and four daughters. His badly mutilated body was identified from the documents on his body.
In a dusty town in eastern Uttar Pradesh, a son had not kept promise made to his father.
“I will earn enough to ensure that all my three sisters are married into well off families,” industrial worker Mohammad Umar had told his father Abdul Khaliq.
“He was the only earning member in the family as I am too old to work in the fields,” Khaliq said. Mohammed had promised to get other jobless men in his village employment in Mumbai.
Four other men from the Sant Kabir Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh were killed, three of them emerging from the Taj Hotel after meeting a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) politician, seeking help with jobs.
If they were looking for jobs, Niti Kang was looking for peace of mind.
“Brother, please ask Panditji to prepare my horoscope, I feel very dejected these days,” Niti Kang, who died in terrorists attack in Mumbai, told her cousin Sachin Bhatnagar in Jaipur on November 22. Kang, wife of the Taj general manager Karamvir Kang, died with her two children.
“I was planning to go to Panditji to get a horoscope for her but the Almighty had a different plan,” Bhatnagar said.
Kang was to move into their new home — four days after she was killed.
(By Alka Dutt and Rakesh Verma in Patna, Ashok Das in Hyderabad, Salil Mekaad in Indore, Sobhapati Samom in Imphal, K.S. Tomar in Jaipur, Amit Roy in Chandigarh and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Lucknow)