It Could Happen to You

You always think it happens to other people, that you’re safe from the cruelty of this misguided world, but are you? I thought that once, until fate reminded me I was a part of the world and I too shall suffer the consequences of being in it. No one is safe, not really. The attack at Holey Artisan Bakery, Dhaka was another not-so-gentle reminder of the same.

When I was growing up, I never paid much attention to the happenings of the world, primarily because I found those happenings grim and painful. It was also because I was too busy filling my head with Harry Potter, Bollywood songs, notions of love and ideas of friendship. That’s the thing with being a kid; I could be oblivious to the violence of the Gujarat 2002 riots and I could turn a blind eye to the sheer loss of 9/11, but I can’t do that effectively anymore. It’s true, ignorance is bliss, because I can’t stop thinking about attack and the people who died in it.

It didn’t happen to me, it happened to other people, but it could have happened to my brother Ninad. My Chachu and Chachi live in Dhaka, quite near to where the bakery was.  Ninad was supposed to fly home from Canada on the 29th of June, but he missed his flight. At that moment, Chachu was livid and understandably so; a flight from Canada doesn’t come cheap. Another flight was booked, and Ninad came home a day late, a day that probably made all the difference.

Three of Ninad’s friends were in that bakery, all three of them didn’t make it. They were all younger than twenty-one years of age. And they didn’t make it. He could have been there; he probably would have been there if he hadn’t missed his flight. Chachu no longer minds that he did. The possibility that a part of my family could have vanished because a few people decided to play a cruel God; that was all it took for me to think twice about all that had happened. My stomach dropped as low as it could and a shiver transmitted into my body, a shiver that hasn’t left since then. My sister and I silently raised a toast to all the fallen with tears in our eyes because even though it didn’t happen to us, it easily could have. I couldn’t remember the last time I had talked to Ninad, or the last time I had even paid him a compliment. It was a moment filled with despair and regret even though Ninad was alive and well.

I didn’t know his friends personally, but I know that their families must be in indescribable agony. Losing a parent is painful, but losing a child is a whole other experience. I know nothing of this experience, but it must be more anguish than the thought of losing a brother. That very thought brought me to tears. My heart goes out to Faraaz Hossain, Abinta Kabir and Tarishi Jain’s families who had to endure much more than a simple thought. May they be in a better place than the last place they were.

Honestly, I feel like I’m rambling on about the state of the world and the pain of death because I’m not sure what else to write. It’s wrong, it’s so horrendously wrong, that there is nothing I can possibly say to emphasize on it. They were kids. KIDS. They didn’t deserve the end they got, no one deserves the end they got. Have you ever watched a crime bases television show and thought about the violence in it? Have you ever seen a stabbing on television and thought, “That’s looks painful but thank god that would never happen to me?” Because I have. But I’m wrong, that could happen to anyone at any point of time, the same way those children were brutally killed when there was never anything they could have ever done to deserve it. The sense of security we all carry with us every day, is false. It’s a sugary lie we tell ourselves to stop us from having a panic attack every minute of every day.

I watched a video recently which said, “No terrorist, no enemy of the state ever thinks of themselves as the bad guy.” That probably lies true for these men who did this too, but how can they not see the perverse nature of what they believe to be right? What kind of God would want this? How could this be His will? When I was young, my teachers used to tell me, “Your life is that of a sheltered child, the world will not be so kind.” I used to pay no heed to their warnings. If only I knew. If only.

The Day I Woke Up

It would seem like any other day if it weren’t for all the flag decorations. The parade was to start at nine. Fifteen more minutes. I was in the wing of the auditorium stage, dressed head to toe in white, with the flag painted across my face. As an eight year old, all I wanted to do was to finish off with the Republic Day dance, and head home to the comfort of cartoon network. Children were swarming around me in last minute panic, some fixing their hair while others fixed their face. Bianca was the best, she stood next to me without moving a muscle. We both just wanted to get this over with. In this particular moment of frenzy, we did what was convenient, and sat wherever we found space enough for the two of us. I consequently phased out into the world inside my head. I did that way too often.

I was so caught up in my Lalaland that I didn’t realize when the frenzy became all the more frenzied. “Everyone clear out. NOW!” screamed Mr. Patel. I jostled to my senses just in time to see the usual shuffling mass of people, running to the exits as fast as they possibly could. I was as obedient as they came back then, so I ran! I ran as fast as I could, though the mass of people, down the staircase. It was then that it struck me like a bolt of lightning; Bianca! I had run so fast, I had completely forgotten about her! Midway down the stairs, I stopped and turned around, trying to spot her. In that moment, the full terror of what was happening finally hit me. I wasn’t moving, but the ground beneath me was shaking violently. A sea of students passed by me with the same face I probably had plastered on; the face of pure panic. Nowhere in this sea could I find Bianca’s face. I stood there, losing my balance every other second, till the biggest masses had passed by. The fear had made me phase out once again. My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening. “Ashni, what are you doing? Move! We’ve got to evacuate the building!” Mr. Patel shouted as he dragged me by the arm towards the exit. I just followed on, waking up from my disoriented state of mind.

The next thing I remember is somehow reaching the football ground. The whole school, from Kindergarten to the 12th grade was out there with me. Some children were crying, others were screaming, and all I could do was try to comprehend what had just happened. As a girl named Ahaana ran by me screaming, I turned to Mr. Patel, “Sir, what’s going on? What just happened?” He looked at me with what I could only describe as melancholy. “It was an earthquake, dear child. It’s probably caused a lot of damage to the city. We’ll find out soon enough,” he said as he patted my back reassuringly. I looked past him to see Bianca cuddled up in the grass. Exhausted, I went and joined her. We ended up cuddling with each other till we were allowed back inside half an hour later.

The school was undamaged, there wasn’t a crack to be seen, but parents had started arriving to pick their children up and take them home. I was in my classroom with the news running in the background. News never interested me, but for the first time I couldn’t look away.

Mansi Towers Collapses: Ahmedabad, Gujarat

This particular headline hit close to home, because Mansi Towers was close to home. I had gone there last week to a friend’s house for a play date, and there it was, crumbling to dust on the screen. At eight, I hadn’t seen much loss. My childhood was a happy one, and I still had all my grandparents. Pain and suffering were alien emotions to me, I had my own little world without them, but now I could see it all in abundance. My first blow of reality wasn’t a grandparent passing away, it was a natural catastrophe that brought even my dream world to its knees. My home, Ahmedabad was synonymous with chaos for quite some time after, and decided to start paying more attention to the world on the outside.