There isn't a place that I frequent when I go back home that hasn't been hit by the 10 attacks that began late Wednesday at India's commercial capital that targeted premier landmark establishments of the city I grew up in and the city I long to go back to.
I was looking forward to flying back home to Mumbai for winter break from school here in Los Angeles as I do every year. I was looking forward to going back to my home opposite The Oberoi Hotel in Nariman Point. I was looking forward to catching up with the Bollywood film releases at the Metro cinema. I was looking forward to meeting my high school friends over peanuts and a pint of Kingfisher at Café Leopold and most of all I was looking forward to making the incredibly tough decision between the scrumptious sushi at Wasabi and the sinful date pancakes at the Golden Dragon restaurant at the Taj Mahal Hotel; a decision that perplexes me every weekend I spend back home in Mumbai.
Neither Mumbai nor I, as a Mumbaikar, is a stranger to terrorism. Many of us have just grown accustomed to living in it whether it be the bomb blasts in 1992 or those aboard Mumbai's local trains in June 2006. But after these 10 attacks that began Wednesday night, the city that never sleeps has fallen to its knees.
No matter what chaos erupts on the streets of Mumbai or the rest of the country the Taj and the Oberoi are places that we would go to be isolated from it all. These hotels are like The Waldorf Astoria in New York or the Ritz in Paris: they never close their doors and are always bustling. They function smoothly and mysteriously through bomb blasts in neighboring buildings, fires, bomb scares, disastrous floods and storms. But these, they couldn't withstand.
Nariman Point, where the Oberoi stands tall, is the financial hub of India's commercial capital. It's where the largest multinationals have their Indian offices and the biggest corporate honchos do business. The hotel is one of the oldest and tallest buildings in the city, a defining image of the affluence of South Mumbai and among the most expensive real estate in the world. It's a place well guarded - where the city's "never-say-die" attitude resounds.
The Taj Mahal hotel has housed every major celebrity including The Beatles, Bill Clinton and Prince Charles. A patriot founded one of the city's most famous landmarks, the Taj Mahal, in 1903 as a revolt to the British who disallowed Indians to enter luxury hotels in India. It is a symbol of Indian hospitality with a remarkable 100-year-old architecture that continues to crumble in the fire. The Taj Mahal Hotels represent the elite Indian, a place of affluence and exclusivity yet familiar to all.
I am saddened by the death of my high school biology teacher Mrs. Randhawa at the Taj Hotel. She got seperated from her husband who hid from gunmen behind a pillar for three hours. Helpless, he could only presume his wife died in the gunfire.
And as my mother calls me shaken and afraid with sights of victims, hostages and blood on the road between my home and the Oberoi and as friends and family call to share their stores; how they escaped or how they are concerned for their loved ones who haven't, a small part of me is happy that the rich are no longer isolated from the realities of India. On December 12, when I land back in Mumbai, I hope to see a change, a renewed sense involvement and empathy for the vast majority of the country that live in the fear and horror of terrorism.
Not only have these attacks caught the attention of the flagbearers of the nation but they have involved and consumed them. The carelessness and disinterest with the rest of the population's concerns that often went disguised as the city's brave spirit will no longer hold. People say we will come out stronger and more resilient. This time, when I go back home, I hope we grow weaker. Because that's what it will take for the city's affluent to unite with the rest of the city. Maybe now India's millions of voiceless victims will be heard.