There was a time not long ago when words like terrorism and suicide bombers were as foreign to me as the places in which they happened. It isn't a nice thing to think or say, but I miss the days when it was someone else's problem. It was easy to go through life hearing these terms when they referred to people I had never seen and places I had never been. Now it is here. For me it started at one of my morning haunts in Tel Aviv. I saw it on CNN. It was odd to have spent time in a place just a few short weeks before seeing it on live TV. Then it was the bombings in places in India I had not yet been, like Hyderabad. Closer, but still far enough away. No memories there. No friends. It was a news story. Then in September, the attack in Delhi happened. All of it in familiar places. Some of it in my own neighborhood. Two weeks later it was another market in Delhi. I started getting used to the frantic calls from Ankit to stay home or avoid a crowded market, and then as fast as it seemed to start, everything was quiet. Yes, the fireworks announcing yet another wedding reminded me of the bomb blasts I had heard. That was odd. When the market near me was attacked, I thought I had not heard anything, but discussing it with a colleague the following Monday, I realized I had mistaken it for thunder. That was a creepy realization. Maybe I am being overly dramatic. Maybe not.
So everything was quiet and pretty much back to normal until last week. Suddenly the TV was flooded with images of places I know. Places I have been. Places my friends live in and go to. Suddenly SMSes start doing the rounds as we all take inventory of who was where, who is OK and who is not yet accounted for. I woke up on the following morning not yet knowing anything in Mumbai had happened. I had emails and text messages asking if I was alright after the attack. What attack?
I turned on the news and was shocked, stunned, appalled, scared. It was less than twelve hours into what would untimately turn into a sixty hour ordeal. I logged onto Twitter and Facebook. Status updates came from friends "I'm Safe" or "I'm nowhere near Mumbai" were the common types of updates. Then they turned angry and became voices of protest.
Twitter became the best source for news as all the channels had conflicting information. On Twitter too were status updates and messages for friends. Requests for prayers. Anger at the government. Shock and overwhelming sadness. After it was over came the Facebook requests for a minute of silence or a request to wear a white shirt today. I heard of peace demonstrations and friends donating blood. Now, of course, the finger pointing has started and the talk of ending the cease-fire with Pakistan is on the news.
What I also find really scary about this is the scale and the deliberate taking of hostages. Specifically western hostages. This is different than a low intensity bomb in a market place more designed to attract attention than anything else. This takes everything to a whole new level. These weren't hostages of opportunity, who just happened to be someplace so the gunmen took advantage of a situation. This was planned. This was part of the plan all along. I started getting messages from friends abroad, wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving and suggesting it is perhaps time for me to leave India. On the surface, it makes sense, but it isn't that simple. Where should I go? Where is safe? London? Madrid? New York? Paris? The Maldives?
What makes me sadder than anything, is that I personally see no end to it. In spite of the bold protests of "We will tolerate it no more", I just don't see how it will end. For every terrorist captured or killed, it seems there is always someone ready to step up and commit such atrocities in the name of their god, religion, nation, race or whatever.
It really makes me very sad.