how easily i am intimidated.
Narrow lanes, they turn where you expect corners, and where they ought to end, they don't, but become narrower still. I adjust my dupatta, take a sip of water, and begin my search. They are only names on a list to me. Ughade, Kakad, Shinde, Waghela.. just people, faceless names to be ticked off, to fill details on a form, to fill a day. In a city that is still new to me, I step into a maze of homes. I look for ordinary people who became heroes and martyrs by default. People who, I'm sure, would have prefered to be ordinary. On a yellow post-it, I have hastily written instructions pasted on the bundle of forms I have been handed. 'Identify those who need immediate support.' Bits and pieces, I gather from them. It's all but a day for us, a story to hear. How can one date encapsulate all these broken lives, '26/11'?
"I operate a lift in Cama Hospital," he began. "I have worked here for 31 years." Lift operator, I write. Permanent employee, I write. That his daughter wears pretty bangles, that she was making eggs sunny side up with onions and chilli powder, that his wife was watching the news in Marathi on their TV, what do I care for these things? There is no place on my form for these things. Pointless details, why do they matter? Do tell me about your injury, I prod. He points to a scar on his neck. With his left hand, he indicates a part on the back of his right shoulder.
"I was hiding on the terrace. I was clueless about what was happening on the fifth and sixth floors. I had many people with me. One of them barged out of the door. I heard firing. I wanted to know what was happening. He found me when I was sneaking closer to him. He asked me if there was an alternate way out. I said No. He refused to believe me. Ofcourse there was, but what could I do? There were other people hiding there. He pointed a gun to my back and asked me to show it to him. With him, another of his friends also came out of that exit then. At this time, the police came. They asked me how many of them were on the terrace. I said two. We spoke Marathi. The terrorists didn't understand us. I looked back at him, and I realised that he was hiding in the corner, he wasn't behind me anymore. The second one threw a grenade in my direction. 'There's something here,' I yelled. While I was yelling, it went off. Some sharpnel has cut my throat, look, it's a two inch cut. Another piece has lodged itself in my shoulder." He raised his left arm, and said, "As much as I can raise my left arm, I can't raise my right. I can only move it when I lift it with my left. I can hardly use it. It is going to cost me 2 lakhs to get it operated. And even then, there are no chances of survival."
"What are your immediate needs, sir?"
And like a character out of a story he says, "I want a new house. I have nightmares about this one. What if the roof crashes on my head? What if the dishes fall on my hand? How will I protect myself?" New house, I write. Probable need for psycho-social support, I write. How will he protect himself? The hero who saved many lives of doctors and patients hiding on the terrace of Cama Hospital, he fears that his house may collapse on him. What may I tell him?
"Are you a journalist?", someone else asks me. She opens her bright pink door and starts to pull up a stool for me to sit on. I sit on the floor instead, I insist. "No, a student." I reply. I explain why I'm there. "But the government has given us money," she tells me. "Twenty five lakhs, cheque. My son goes to school nearby. I have a job in the hospital. I don't need anything." Just outside her chawl, there's a poster put up with a photograph of her husband and two others. Shraddhanjali, it says. I talk to her for a couple of minutes and leave. She didn't appreciate my presence there, nor the reason I was there. As I am leaving the place she lives in, some children ask me the same question she did. I smiled, and said no. I overhear someone say "She must have come about the terrorism."
A single day has many meanings for different people. For some, each day is a struggle, each night brings a different roof. A lot of the time, there is no roof. Standing at a train station waiting to go home, when there was scarcely anything to turn topsy-turvy in his life, a bullet struck his face. It hit him next to his right eye and has given this man many problems with sight. "I iron clothes for a living, madam," he tells me. "I have two children and a wife. Even before this happened, the police threatened to throw me out of my home." His business is a little set-up on a road, his home is similar. Immediate need for financial support, I write. I write a long comment about his family. Can I talk about how much I walked from the main road to reach his home? Can I say that I had to ask atleast twelve people directions to 'the home of the man who was affected by the terror attack'?
mother do you think they'll drop the bomb?
mother do you think they'll like the song?
mother do you think they'll break my balls?
oooh, aah, mother should i build a wall?
It wasn't an ordinary day for her. Sure, it started the same way. She woke up late in the afternoon. She got dressed. She was to take a train to Churchgate and go to work. She worked in a call centre. But haven't we all done this before, changed plans? Her friend called her and they decided to skip work and go out instead. She took a train to CST instead of Churchgate. Her photographs are all over the room I was sitting in. Her mother is biting her lips, holding back her tears. What is your plan for the future madam, I ask, as per the form. The eyes couldn't hold the tears anymore. I don't know, said the mother. She brought an album with photographs of the girl from the time she was six months old. Each photograph brought a fresh memory. My eyes couldn't stay dry either. What right did they have to take her life? She wasn't even meant to be there..
..There is shrapnel all over his back. It is still swollen. He was protecting his mother with his arm around her when the grenade went off behind him. She didn't survive, he did. The oldest son, he was made to discharge himself from the hospital on the very first day to perform her last rites. He wasn't operated upon. Today, he doesn't have the money to get himself operated. And even if he does, he might not survive at the end of it. He can't lie down, he can't stand. What do I write on his form? That he needs medical help? That he needs financial support? That he's the only earning member of his family, but can't work anymore? What can I say?
hush now baby, baby, don't you cry.
mama's gonna make all of your nightmares come true
mama's gonna put all of her fears into you
mama's gonna keep you right here under her wing
she won't let you fly, but she might let you sing
mama will keep baby cozy and warm
oooh babe.. oooh babe.. oooh babe,
of course mama's gonna help build the wall