Published: Verve Magazine, In Memoriam Issue, January 2009
‘Light a candle and watch it burn away
Light a fire in your soul and keep it here to stay….’
I read post after post, article after article of heart-rending stories and traumatic accounts. In reading them, I forget my own pain. But a greater anguish floods my soul – it is a gut-wrenching feeling, like something is being ripped out from inside. The city isn’t burning, we are. We are being caught alive and examined in public – it is our own public hanging and extermination – well-deserved in the face of reality. It made me angry when we revelled in the spirit of Mumbai, to bounce back and just get into work, without a second thought. I came to work, broken and disheartened, walked into the building barely a block away from Café Leopold and watched everyone discussing the horror in muted tones, with escalating emotions. I couldn’t join in. I watched people – young people – say ‘but it will be okay – we will be back to normal soon, sab chalta hai’. My mind screamed out to them – what is normal? Is our apathy – which is neither resilience nor spiritedness – normal?
As I arrived, a few days later for the protest march and drifted along with the throng, as if I were a paper boat riding a wave, something snapped within me. A sense of pride, a sense of conviction, a sense of determination, a sense of change. As the chants mounted into a powerful crescendo, it was the chant of a city finding its spirit. The real spirit – not to sit back and watch, but to stand up and take charge.
I felt a thundering inside me, as I watched the intelligentsia rub shoulders with the workers. Every ethnic community stood unified that night – the remote SoBoites who generally abscond from voting because it is beneath them, stormed the streets and asked for justice, pushed for change.
Of course this time it was because it was the Taj and Oberoi that got hit. Of course it was because these are places that we could have been at – on another day, at another time. And of course, it made people uncomfortable – for the first time, this made them sit up and take notice. It was unfortunately at the cost of so many people, so many people we knew, but all the same, it gave Mumbai a soul.
If we need a cause to get motivated, this is it. Let us not burn another candle in our lives – a candle that may brighten up a dark night, sympathise with a bereft one and watch out for a lost soul; but ones which eventually melt away into the night like stained wax. Let it not be another incident relegated to the archives of human thought – better left undisturbed. Let us wake every day with a fire that eats into us, ravages us, demanding that we do something, to make it right. Let it not take the loss of one more life before we hold onto our very evasive Mumbai soul.