Last Sunday, i wrote about the weddings which extended our global family. Last Wednesday, global terrorism attacked the last of the multiple
celebrations. The reception was in the Jeejeebhoy Agiari compound, at the far end of Colaba. The second-last sitting of the traditional dinner was underway, and we were on a high that everything had gone off so perfectly. Then the mobile phones started the end game.
It's difficult to distract from patra fish and saffron chicken, but the frenzied feeding on rumour began.
Rahul Akerkar got the first message that someone had been shot outside his restaurant, Indigo. Seconds later, someone added “Leopold”, followed by “Shamiana at the Taj”. “A lone sniper has gone berserk” escalated to “It's some gang warfare”. Finally, with calls about “bombs” at CST station, the T word blasted our comparative complacency. It helped that my TOI colleagues had arrived by then presuming that they had got the next day's edition under control; fact was easier to distil from wild panic as our news bureau and police sources kept them informed. What didn't help were the intermittent explosions, their chilling sound detonating down the length of Colaba to freeze us in mid-buzz.
We closed the gates, switched off the festive lighting, and, in the flicker of the decorator's diyas, remained inside the agiari compound for an hour or so. Then, fearing that the situation might deteriorate, we dispersed in reassuring groups of cars. Now there was no question of the bridal couple spending the night at the Taj as booked. When we got home and turned on the TV, we realised that it had been a very close call for everyone. Everyone except Sabina.
She had come especially for the wedding, like my two other Delhi best friends, Anjali and Pranavi. Fate alone knows what made her leave early, and return to the Taj. Had she stayed on till later, like Suhel and Raian, she would have camped elsewhere, and the rest would not have been history. I called on her cell as soon as i saw the TV images. She answered in a voice i'd never heard from my strapping, no-nonsense friend. She whispered that a lot of firing was going on. No one had yet plumbed the depth, length or the darkness of the nightmare to come.
I never got through again. Instead, it was a continuous, impotent vigil punctuated by unflagging calls and smses from friends and colleagues from all over. The agony of not knowing was excruciating, but nothing compared with the terror in which our dynamic, generous, hospitable, ever-obliging Sabina was trapped.
Then, 24 numbing hours later, Jug called with the liberating news that she was safe, and my mobile phone glowed with the relief i relayed. Only to be told soon after that it was premature. I hadn't known till then that she was in the heritage suite which we had seen aflame all day. We pleaded for a miracle, for hope had turned out to be a perfidious ally.
And i prayed. I wished i could turn off my cell, so that i could do so undisturbed, but it was the sole emissary of the news i so desperately wanted — and it was also the link with our common friends and their embrace of dry-lipped concern. They too needed to know. I had brought Sabina to this situation, and i alone was responsible. I owed them the answers, minute by minute.
Now we all know what we hadn't dared to know. Santanu, and young Arundhati and Anirudhha, forgive me.
Alec Smart said: “Knowledge power, yes, but no Intelligence.”