Photo: AP
Photo: AP

26/11 attacks: 10 years later, a new fear haunts

Ten years is a long time for someone like me who was trapped in the Taj Mahal Hotel that night and had endured several traumatic hours, but who, in the end, escaped with her loved ones, physically unhurt but for a broken fingernail

It’s been 10 years since 26/11, which is a long time. Let me rephrase that. Ten years is a long time for someone like me who was trapped in the Taj Mahal Hotel that night and had endured several traumatic hours, but who, in the end, escaped with her loved ones, physically unhurt but for a broken fingernail. I cannot presume to imagine how the axis of their worlds shifted 10 years ago for the families of those who didn’t escape unscathed.

I don’t really think about that night any more. Usually, it’s only when someone asks about it and with every passing year, that occurs less often. I’ve had the immense privilege to be allowed to forget, simply because I didn’t lose much.

What I lost was a little bit of that innocence that is afforded to those with a certain amount of privilege. I understood that night what true fear felt like. It is debilitating.

I hate acknowledging this. No one wants to admit the attackers managed to plant fear and instability—powerful weapons against any enemy. But I realize I gain nothing by shutting off my humanity. I didn’t leave that hotel untouched; none of us did.

It’s also disconcerting to admit your failures, and I had one that night that I thought about a lot in the days following the attack. In the hairiest moment I experienced, my boyfriend and I were running from bullets coming behind us. Numb with fear, I ran past an elderly lady who had toppled over, but my boyfriend stopped to get her to her feet. Only then did I run back to help and we all made it to safety. It was not my finest hour, but it was surely one of his.

The fear had been too monumental for me to shake off at that moment, but I made sure I did control and exercise it, slowly and methodically, in the months and years after. It helped to not focus on the moments of terror and hate, but on the acts of heroism we saw—an everyday guy helping an old woman or the armed forces member who rescued us with the line: “The first bullet will go through me."

Fear didn’t turn into hate or a need for vengeance against a community or country but 26/11 did make me intolerant of extremism of any sort, especially to the variety that’s been freely sprouting much closer to home. We’re at a time when our country seems more divided than ever, split along every possible fault line that can be imagined: Brahmin and Dalit, Hindu and Muslim, left and right, minority and majority, male and female.

The world is slowly but surely rejecting the hate. We know that our religion or caste or sex don’t make us superior. We treat our daughters like our sons. We don’t judge our neighbours by what they eat. When you go low, we go high.

On my part, I’ve learnt to fight back in an individual capacity. Pretending they haven’t hurt us won’t help, nor hating them back will.

Parizaad Khan Sethi is based out of New York and is a contributing editor with Vogue India

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