-By Sanjay Jha
I asked a few people in a small group who Ajmal Amir Kasab was. They looked at me in wonderment and surprise, even perceivable amusement as if saying—– “Are you a crazy lunatic guy, or what ?” I prodded them ,deliberately provocative, feigning the status of an ignoramus. Sighing with egregious exasperation, one of them said—“The captured terrorist who brutally massacred innocent commuters at CST railway terminus and slaughtered our valiant cops on the horrendous night of 26/11 in Mumbai ”. I clapped in genuine appreciation—seriously . They thought I was sarcastically mocking them so the response was a mere mute silence. Then I asked them—-“Who is Tukaram Omble?” This time they looked stunned , ex-pressionless, but perceptibly challenged. They easily guessed he was a 26/11 victim or an unknown daring character but were visibly unsure of specific details . Some took wild shots in the dark while others were honest enough to keep the pretensions short. Either way, barring a few no one knew of the brave assistant police inspector who even as Kasab gunned him to death, held on to him long enough till his colleagues pounced on the dreaded terrorist capturing him alive. In a sense, it was the late Tukaram and the other police constables that night that gave India it’s damning evidence against Pakistan.
It has been a year but 26/11 has become a topic which invariably crops up at frequent intervals in the life of the common man in Mumbai. It is unlikely to obliterate itself by even an iota from anyone’s memory—ever. Everyone I know has a story, and there are innumerable ones of those who providentially survived through some miraculous abrupt interventions. Like this girl Feroza who was all set to have dinner at Café Leopold that night till a last minute switch to the charming deli Theobrama. Of those who due to some quirky personal reasons caught a late-night local train from Churchgate instead of the traditional CST route. Of a friend from London staying at the Oberoi-Trident who chose to step out of the luxury hotel to have a quick bite at some tony restaurant in Colaba. Or my own daughter who was at Taj President at close proximity as the first shots rang and sent us all into a momentary hell of unparalleled fear . In short, 60 hours. 164 innocent people dead. But a billion scarred forever.
Sachin Tendulkar , Mumbai’s own noble son and India’s true-blue national icon played a Test match at Chennai a few weeks later , his emotions torn , his anger checked , his hurt so obvious. Yet his spirit was intact, as always. India was to beat England in the Chennai Test match by 6 wickets and Sachin would score an unbeaten hundred and in that touching poignant moment dedicate the win and century to Mumbai , in the process also exorcising the ghost of the heart-breaking defeat against Pakistan at the same ground 9 years before. . It was as if by some powerful divine intervention the Mumbai cricketing great was further becoming part of it’s soil, sand and breeze. I still remember the gleam of hope and faith and smiles returning on tired anxious faces as after a long time the headlines looked different. At least people pretended it was all over now and it was the return of happy tidings. In difficult times, every ray of sunshine is like a lifeline.
As I write this column on 26/11 Sachin Tendulkar stands accused by some political guardians of his own city of Mumbai of letting down his birth-place. And pray what is the sacrilegious violation that Tendulkar is guilty of for which he has been severely castigated by such parochial forces? “ I play for India and Mumbai belongs to all”—this is the supposedly “ blasphemous” statement that the modest master-blaster uttered. Since then it has led to a vitriolic attack of the greatest cricketer of the modern international era , even resulting in virulent assaults on media offices espousing sanity. In his own home town of Mumbai, India’s most lionized personality and respected role model is under siege. Sachin Tendulkar and Tukaram Omble—- two true Marathi manoos; lost amidst wilderness, literally.
I will write this piece as will several media columnists. We will all do our perfunctory anniversary activities, as if like a routine process. I will even join social groups in their private endeavors to express solidarity and say prayers . We will hold candle-light marches and observe two-minute silences for those who fell a tragic victim to barbarous backpackers not knowing why till the very end. Of those incredible heroes who emerged to become saviours for their guests and martyrs for the nation. Everyone will animatedly discuss what could have been. And promise to change and learn from the loss. But finally, as they say life will move on.
26/11 is over. But yet sadly enough India’s siege continues.