Santanu Saikia speaks calmly and precisely, in even tones. But an undercurrent of urgency betrays the enormity of both, his loss and the task confronting him.
For three days beginning November 26, Saikia and his children had kept a long, tense vigil. Finally, he was told his wife Sabina had breathed her last in a suite on the embattled sixth floor of the Taj Mahal hotel.
For those of us who knew Sabina, her most striking quality was the full-throated, upfront manner in which she dealt with all that life handed her — the joys, the pleasures, the kindnesses and the conflicts. It is now left to her family to grapple with her loss in the same manner.
“When one is dealing with a terminal illness, you have time to grieve, to adjust to the natural process of life and death,” says Saikia. “But this was a violent, mindless event. I’m 50 years old, I’m an old horse, I’m coping as best as I can.”
But his children are another matter. “It has been particularly hard on my 11-year-old son, Anirudhha, who was very attached to his mother,” he says. “He hasn’t shed a tear since the incident; he doesn’t want to even talk about it. I’ve tried bringing up the subject many times, but drawn a blank. All he says is that, one day, he wants to visit the room in which she stayed. Perhaps it will be a catharsis for him.”
His daughter Arundhati, thirteen-and-a-half years old, has reacted in her own manner. “On the day her mother died, in this seemingly inexplicable event, she became a woman. Her teenage years were telescoped into adulthood in an instant,” he remarks.
A pause. Then: “This is the tragedy of my life.”
Don’t search for self-pity. “The point is, says Saikia, how does one tackle this tragedy with a positive attitude, if one could use the term?”
This is how Saikia has decided they will: “We want to face this with fortitude, with quiet dignity and take it philosophically.”
One of the results of their loss, he believes, will be that his children “will gain in character and strength and come out of this as better human beings.” But they are young; and he does worry: “We want to side-step this tragedy and try to lead a normal life. But three months down the line, when they realise life is normal for everyone else but not for them, it will hit them.”
As the nation goes into a paroxysm of anger against the perpetrators of the attack and the politicians who have, perhaps, led us to this pass, Saikia’s emotions are at another pitch.
“When I grieve, I have no anger,” he says. “When Sabina herself is gone, why hang on to such negative feelings surrounding this event? Terror has no religion and there is a lot of misdirected anger. I’ve told my children, ‘They did what they thought they had to do.’ Our sorrow overwhelms all other emotions. We have no anger, no malice, no rancour or bitterness. We forgive them all.”