The loss of innocence

Death, fear, torture, executions, hostage situations, loss of loved ones, panic, helplessness, hatred – this was stuff we were supposed to watch on a television screen I thought. So after a point, when things would get too dark or depressing, one could switch off the movie, read a comic book and go to bed with a smile again. Except that the nightmares have now spilled on to our streets and trains and buses and hotels and markets and homes, leaving us floundering for a remote to switch it all off somehow.

I vividly remember my first ever brush with terror as a kid, when I happened to read an article on the plague epidemic in Surat. It was an India Today article, I think, with the story suitably sensationalized to scare a twelve-year old with no prior exposure to the gory side of life right out of her wits. I came home sobbing uncontrollably. ‘Are we all going to die?’, I wanted to know. ‘Don’t worry darling, nothing will happen to us, I’ll keep you safe’, Aai promised me, enveloping me in a bear hug. All problems solved and my fears melting away in a flash, I ran off with a hop, skip and a jump to play outside with my friends.

Today, I watch my parents struggle to reassure themselves. Baba sounds listless even a week after the Mumbai carnage. ‘Is something wrong?’, I ask, half-knowing the answer. ‘What happened in Bombay is troubling me’, he answers, simple and straightforward. I have no idea how to respond to this.

My mother is far more resilient, embodying the famed spirit of Mumbai perhaps. She and my mausi were out shopping in a crowded South Bombay market this weekend. ‘Aren’t you scared?’, I want to know. ‘How do I live my life if I sit at home scared?’, she counters. And cites the example of a non-Mumbaikar who missed his train and died on his way to spend the night with his relatives in Mumbai, a few minutes away from our home. ‘I will go when my time has come!’, she says and truly seems to believe in it. Yet what other choice does she have?

Does Aai actually feel safe, I wonder? As long as she doesn’t think about the dangers, she probably does. After all, South Bombay is where she grew up and went to school and college and shopped and laughed and lived life. It is where my parents met and fell in love. It must be tough to think of such a place as anything but a warm and loving home. So her resilience and spirit, as that of most other Mumbaikars, is more a strange combination of escapism, fatalism and harsh ground realities than anything else I think.

My father and I, on the other hand, think too much, which is our biggest problem, my mother and the husband would say. I, for one, am terrified to board a flight to Mumbai a couple of months from now. ‘Isn’t the city your home? Will you stop going home because of these incidents?’, the husband asks, dismissing my fears with his characteristic nonchalance. How do I explain to him the hopelessness and sense of doom engulfing me?

Are these feelings a part of growing up? Surely each generation must face their own difficulties? For my parents, it would have been the Emergency, for my grandparents, the struggle for independence. Yet we all think of our problems as the most troubling. No doubt the times we face are more violent than most. But surely there is an end to this too? I fervently hope so. How else will I reassure my kids the way Aai reassured me that scary summer day?


12 responses to “The loss of innocence

  1. We are all going through this phase. Yet this is also true that the most current incident leaves the most impact. And of course, it depends on where we are living. I feel that the Partition, 1984 Pogrom, Operation BlueStar have been the banes of our times. But yes, you are right, we do not stop living. Mumbaikaar or not, we human beings all have that Phoenix like spirit. So, I join your husband and Aai in saying that you do not stop going HOME because it is on fire.
    Very very touching post. Glad I started my day reading this.

  2. You are right Manpreet, pain varies with both time and distance. Sad but true. On second thoughts, not so sad perhaps, how else do we find the will to move on and live?

  3. I can empathize with your mother’s way of thinking. Why die a million times before ones death. That is giving victory to those that terrorize. We will die one day – till then one has to live

  4. Hi Devaki,
    Looking back, I feel like our generation has not really faced any challenge – like the Great Depression/ WW I/ WW II/ Famine/ Epidemics .. you name it. I guess Terrorism is our generation’s burden to bear.

    yes, what you feel is completely normal. Its called fear of the unknown. We are all struggling with it to a lesser or greater degree. Hope you feel better soon.


  5. well, i am like you Aai i think. there are some things that need to be left to destiny and fear of death is one such thing.

    wasnt there a thing phrase that said that a wise man is the one who knows the difference between what he can change and what he cannot.

    so we can do our little bit by being alert, more tolerant, teach our kids to respect humanity and have faith and leave the rest to powers above.


  6. Thanks Ritu and Abha, your words help me.

    Hmmm… that’s just what I’ve been thinking too Priya. But it’s tough to accept. All along life is rosy and beautiful and suddenly you face something terrifying you’d never expected to face yourself.

  7. Nice post again. But I feel we are in the toughest of times, much more than the world wars because of the very method terrorism employs. While guerilla warfare is against the army, terrorism is war waged directly on the civilians and the hopeless part is that civilians don’t know how to retort back. By fighting with force or by being resilient is a dilemma.

    I have a srilankan friend whose family stays in colombo. He says “Bullets missing you at times in the market place”..They are resigned to fate much more than us.

  8. Cannot imagine the horror of it! I read a book about the civil war in Lebanon once and remember shuddering and thinking to myself – I’m so glad India is not like that! Now after Mumbai… I am scared to even think about it

    And you are right – we really have no idea how to fight back!

  9. Two decades and never ending congo wars. Gosh! I wonder what goes through in the minds of men when they set about this task of massacring civilians. Let alone civilians, why kill a soldier even? Sometimes I think the answer lies in the disparities of the society. Huh! That thought provokes me for a new post.:-)

  10. Funny thing is, I really didn’t feel scared once I was there. You are right. It’s just a fear of the unknown nahi?

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