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India unites in remembering 26/11 victims

india Updated: Nov 27, 2009 01:35 IST
Minu Jain
Minu Jain
IANS
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It was a day of vivid recall, of remembrances public and private, of recrimination and also resolve as India on Thursday paused in its tracks to rewind to the traumatic night of November 26 last year and the 60 hours of terror that followed.

They went to school, college and office but the fear and helplessness of that day was never far from the mind as Indians across the country and the world mourned the 166 dead in India's most wounding terror strike that had left behind scars perhaps never to be healed.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was away in the US, spoke in Washington about "remembrance and homage to all the innocent civilians and our brave men in uniform" who died in the attack.

In the national capital, parliament began with two minutes silence and a resolution in the Lok Sabha to wage a united war against terror. In Kanpur, the cricket Test between India and Sri Lanka began with a similar homage. Tributes to the brave who died - and those who survived - were held in many cities with citizens collecting at designated places holding aloft lit candles and pledging for peace.

And all thoughts were with Mumbai, India's thriving commercial capital that was ravaged by 10 terrorists who came by boats from Pakistan on the night of Nov 26 to begin a bloody siege that ended only on the afternoon of Nov 28. Only one terrorist was caught alive, Pakistani Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, whose trial is far from complete.

As crowds gathered at the Gateway of India, the two luxury hotels ravaged by the attacks, Chabad House, Leopold Cafe, Marine Drive, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station -- every place the terrorists had left a bloody imprint - the anger was palpable.

"We want Kasab to be hanged," said a young teen outside the Gateway of India. "We are all furious. You can protect ministers but what about us?" added another man standing next to her.

That the Lok Sabha, which started with Speaker Meira Kumar's resolution "to unitedly fight and defeat the forces of terrorism", degenerated into an ugly war of words between BJP's Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the occasion led to dismay.

Advani alleged that the disbursal of relief to the victims was slow, prompting heated exchanges and finally, Mukherjee shouting at BJP MPs: "You are making politics on 26/11."

It took Meira Kumar to remind the house that "today is a very solemn day".

While many seethed at politicians fighting on what should have been a "special occasion", other focused on mourning for the day that had shaken them out of their apathy and introspecting on what lay ahead.

Memories of that night were uppermost.

Thousands of commuters rushing to their offices halted to pay respects to those slaughtered in the blaze of bullets at the CST, Mumbai's oldest and largest rail hub.

The newly created elite Force One, created on the lines of the elite National Security Guard, made its first public appearance when it marched through parts of the affected areas in Mumbai.

Also on display were security forces displaying an array of sophisticated weapons, bulletproof vehicles and amphibian boats.

"We shall leave no stone unturned to protect Mumbai and its citizens," Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said, as everyone -- from the celeb to the ordinary person -- relived the trauma.

"It is a friend's wedding anniversary. Now the joy of that day is gone forever. Now 26/11 is a day of terror forever," said Bollywood veteran Hema Malini.

Added her younger colleague Bipasha Basu: "I want terrorism to be wiped off the face of the earth. Is that asking for too much?"

Domestic worker Suvarna Kamble said she was amazed at the sheer courage displayed by Mumbaikars.

"I came to Mumbai only three months before the terror attack, but I was amazed by the sheer grit of the city. A year later, I feel safer and more confident of living in this big city."

The 1.5 km wall at Marine Drive was full of messages at 5 a.m. itself and thousands more came to read them.

"People want to unite, they want to jointly tackle the common challenges confronting them like terror? that is the reason the 1.5 km wall at Marine Lines has got several thousand messages," said BJP leader Shaina NC.

Some moments will stay on forever - even for somebody like little 'Goli', or bullet, who was not even born at that time.
Viju Chavan, a worker in Mumbai who was shot in the stomach, said with a smile at the oddities of fate: "I was pregnant at the time of the attack. After that incident, people told me to name my daughter Goli. Even today, my daughter is referred to as Goli, not by her real name."

Remember but move on undeterred, the extraordinary story of Goli may epitomise the spirit in which Mumbai -- and India -- observed the 26/11 anniversary.