You never think it will happen to you. The conductor checks some other woman’s ticket. The guy next to you catches the stray ball. The man across the platform falls under the train. He didn’t think it could happen to him. We didn’t think it would happen to us.
Major landmarks and normal people were besieged by terrorists in Mumbai on Wednesday night. Gun shots and grenade blasts continued throughout the night, shaking native Mumbaikers and foreigners alike.
I moved here a year ago from New York City, and have always felt, in most senses, secure. Although I stick out because of my skin and height—I’m tall and white—most people here seem to be more interested in catching the bus or buying their vegetables than they are in me.
Things feel different today. Gloria Jeans, my local coffee shop, is a ghost town. The roads are bright and empty. And, today my skin marks me as a target. Word is that the terrorists hunted for American and British visitors. I hold both passports. If the perpetrators are trying to hurt the economy (the markets shut Thursday) or cow Westerners, they have succeeded.
Fortunately, my friends and I holed up in the suburbs, away from most of the attack sites. On any other night we might have been there—for a meeting at the Taj, a drink near Leopold’s, an event at the Oberoi. Instead, we answered emails and fielded phone calls from friends and family in Texas, New York, Dubai, Nairobi and closer to home in Hyderabad, Delhi and Pune. Amidst the worry was longing: a fellow American living in Mumbai who is away in Boston phoned to register his concern, saying, “I wish I was there.”
Am I glad I’m here? We would never wish these attacks on anyone, but one thing they can do is create community and foster acceptance and understanding. It happened in New York after 9/11, and it can happen here. That’s what my absent American friend was missing, I think. That is we all hope for. Although the perpetrators were targeting Westerners, all Mumbaikers—whether we are temporary or permanent—will feel the repercussions, but also, hopefully, the benefits of uniting.
As the attacks continued Thursday morning, I left my house to head to a friend’s to get a dose of CNN. On the way I asked the rickshaw driver what he thought about it all. “There’s no one on the road,” he said nonplussed, “and I heard there was a blast.” Another friend’s “massage-guy,” Neeraj, sent a text: “Hi sir. Good mor. Everything is ok. R.U.O.K. Take care.” When I asked my friend’s maid what she thought, this budding conspiracy theorist suggested, “India won the cricket match and it was over at 10:15 PM, and then the attacks started. So that’s there,” she continued, “and there’s Raj Thackeray, of course.” All politics is local, I guess.
Unfortunately, this invasion threatens the delicate pH balance of our little town. This frenetic, odorous, tumescent place relies on all its people to keep the equilibrium in balance, the engines running, wings flapping. As crowded as we may feel, we must lean into one another, not away—if we don’t, our fragile island will founder.
My mother, doing her job, wants to know if I plan on coming home. Where is home now? The sweaty embrace of the city has become like the comfort of my boyfriend’s worn t-shirts. I rave about how safe we are here. Perhaps, after this, it is best not to get too complacent. But, I can’t leave now.
Lindsay Clinton is the editor of Microfinance Insights magazine, and blogs regularly about her personal and professional experiences at http://IndiaRevisited.blogspot.com. Lindsay is from Austin, Texas, but calls Mumbai home.