03 December 2008

the heroes of Mumbai

(photo credit: New York Times)

For Heroes of Mumbai, Terror Was Call to Action

"On any ordinary day, Vishnu Datta Ram Zende used the public-address system at Mumbai’s largest railway station to direct busy hordes of travelers to their trains.

But last Wednesday just before 10 p.m., when he heard a loud explosion and saw people running across the platform, he gripped his microphone and calmly directed a panicked crowd toward the safest exit. The station, Victoria Terminus, it turned out, was suddenly under attack, the beginning of a three-day siege by a handful of young, heavily armed gunmen.

“Walk to the back and leave the station through Gate No. 1,” he chanted alternately in Hindi and Marathi, barely stopping to take a breath until the platform was cleared. No sooner, gunmen located his announcement booth and fired, puncturing one of the windows. Mr. Zende was not hurt.

Overnight, Mr. Zende became one of Mumbai’s new heroes, their humanity all the more striking in the face of the inhumanity of the gunmen....

Not far from the train station, as the same network of gunmen stormed the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel, a sous chef named Nitin Minocha and his co-workers shepherded more than 200 restaurant diners into a warren of private club rooms called The Chambers.

For the rest of the night they prepared snacks, served soda, fetched cigarettes and then, when told it was safe, tried to escort the diners out through the back. They wanted to make sure their guests, many of them Mumbai’s super-elite, were as comfortable as possible.

“The only thing was to protect the guests,” said the executive chef, Hemant Oberoi. “I think my team did a wonderful job in doing that. We lost some lives in doing that.”

During the attacks, six employees from the kitchen staff were slain.

Even after an aborted evacuation bid, hotel workers helped get water for their guests and held up bedsheets to create makeshift urinals....

Mr. Zende joined the railways at the age of 19, when his father, a railway guard, died. With a 10th-grade education, Mr. Zende began at the bottom of the ladder, working himself up to the announcement booth. Now, he commutes an hour and a half each way from a working-class corner on the city’s northern edges, naturally on the railways. He makes little more than $300 a month."

India has lived with terrorism for years, yet it only becomes front page news when the white faces are killed.

I fell in love with India on my first trip. I was 51, alone, and I had never been overseas in my life, but as soon as my foot hit Indian soil I knew I had come home. when I returned to my American home a month later, I was changed. I experienced reverse culture shock that lasted for many months. I did not want to be here at all, it made me depressed. tired of my constant talk about India, my husband asked me, annoyed, "why do you love India so much?" I said without hesitation, "the people", and I started to cry.

I've spent my time with slum children who use garbage for toys and with Brahmins, the highest caste. I've spent time at a shelter with women who were rescued from the streets. There I talked with a former Bollywood star who told me, when I started crying because these women reminded me of the battered women to whom I teach yoga, "don't cry, madam, we like it here." I was hugged by a woman who could speak no English but she touched my hair and then touched hers and started talking to me in Tamil...the translator told me that she said we were the same because we both had the same thick, curly, dark hair. I've sat on the concrete floor of my auto rickshaw driver's two room apartment that doesn't have a bathroom, eating lunch with my hands in the south Indian way, sharing a communal meal with him and his wife and three daughters. they sleep on straw mats on the concrete floor.

I was the guest of honor at a school in the slums of Madurai where I told the children that they were all Gandhis. a teacher told the kids how it was their privilege for the American yoga teacher to visit their school today. I said, no, it was MY privilege to be treated with such graciousness, a total stranger. the principal took my hand and said I was a gift from God for them...and that's when I started to cry.

I've met people who have nothing according to white bread suburban standards and yet they have everything. there has not been one day since 2005 that I do not think about Ma India. she cracks open my heart and makes me count the days until I can run back into her arms and lose myself all over again.


  1. gift from god.
    geez-making me cry, too
    seems we are thinking alike lately

  2. I have read this 3 times now- and I weep each time. Thank you for this.

    Peace and light to all.

  3. I've been crying since I woke up, and now I'm crying harder. And this isn't sadness, it's much worse than that.

  4. Thanks H C, I wouldn't have hearrd about the heroes unless I read this so thank you!

  5. Dear Linda, you write beautifully and from the heart. I had to wipe tears away, but don't apologise for that to anyone, please.

    I went on to read the other stuff on your blog, and am so happy to have stumbled across you.

    - Deepa from Mumbai

  6. oh my god, Deepa, thank you! that means so much coming from a Mumbaiker! wishing you a peaceful heart and heartful peace....



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