Pray for the Victims

We never really understand loss unless we have experienced it ourselves—until tragedy hits close to our own hearts. It was about 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon when I hobbled through my garage—one arm struggling to hold a chilled turkey, the other wobbling with the weight of four glass jars of assorted Indian spices. I entered the basement and collapsed, condiments rolling angrily around me. I looked up in surprise to see my entire family huddled on the couch, glued to the blaring television. My father was on the phone, anxiously pacing the room, his face cringed with worry. Slowly, I turned to face the screen. Scene: The dome of the regal Taj Hotel in South Mumbai. Still golden, but now golden with flame. Burning in hate, burning in fear. The Indian Ocean below now a mirror of violence and tragedy. I was there. I have stood on that sidewalk countless times, looking up at that very dome. I have walked those streets, gazed out at that very ocean. But now they will never be the same again. Buildings can be repaired, and debris swept up. But memories cannot be erased. Deaths cannot be reversed. What happens now? It took me almost a full minute to remember that my grandparents live in Mumbai. Their humble concrete flat lies less than a few hundred feet away from the Taj. Just a few months ago, I stood by the water with Dadaji as he recalled his favorite childhood adventure: fishing with a mango. Where was he now? Why was I here, so far away? No one was picking up the phone at their apartment. Never in my life have I been so enraged; never have I been so utterly terrified. Why is the world such a dangerous place? Why can’t we all just get along? After four endless days of panic and three nights of disturbed sleep, we got through at last. My father had not slept since Wednesday. This was the first time I had seen him cry—ever. The dark circles around his eyes were not only from exhaustion, but from pain and diminishing hope. I watched quietly as he pressed the numbers of the phone for the thousandth time. First ring, second ring, third ring. Pause. The stuttering, hoarse voice of Dadaji echoed through the receiver. “We are safe. Thank God, we are safe.” While this weekend was one of the most frightening of my life, it was—appropriately enough—one that I am the most thankful for. Every Facebook status read: “_________ is praying for the victims of Mumbai.” or contained a link to CNN or the New York Times. So many adolescents, not just those of Indian descent, were concerned about the news. It just goes to show how the world is becoming increasingly intertwined, and how valuable global, thoughtful citizens like all of us are to its future. While it is not America’s catastrophe to bear, our children’s hearts are nevertheless overseas. My inbox was flooded with emails, my cell phone with texts. Simple, yet heart-felt expressions made all the difference: “My family is praying for your family.” “Update me as soon as you know anything.” “I am thinking of you.” As cliché as it might sound, it feels good to know that people care. Thank you, Andover, for caring. Your response to the Mumbai attacks truly reflects your selflessness. I would not want to be a part of any other community right now. As I prepare to sit down for an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner #2 (turkey tikka masala), I will pray that this madness ends. While I am still afraid of what is to come, I will thank you for praying, too. Zahra Bhaiwala is a three-year Upper from Andover, Mass.