From 26 children who shared their pain dealing with life without their closest ones, to survivors who still remember the night of 26/11 clearly, to police and defence personnel who spent long hours in rescue during the three-day long siege. Against the backdrop of the Gateway of India and Arabian Sea, nine years after the November 26, 2008, terror attack killed 166 people in Mumbai, families of over 52 victims, police personnel and survivors gathered on Sunday to share stories of how they coped with their loss and faced their future in a memorial organised by the Indian Express Group along with Facebook.
“More than 70 per cent of our nation is moderate. And as moderates, we must recognise that to vilify a foe is no victory at all, to understand a foe is the first act of strength in resistance. To understand a foe, one must first understand ourselves… To understand ourselves, we can only do so together,” said Amitabh Bachchan, one of the guests at the event, invoking Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha.
Apart from Bachchan, the memorial was attended by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, lyricist Prasoon Joshi, singer Amit Trivedi, and Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Western Naval Command Vice-Admiral Girish Luthra, among several IAS and IPS officers. Saying that it was the fight of the common man after losing their family that made them special, Fadnavis said, “Mumbai is changing. Today we have installed CCTV cameras — the third eye — that provides intelligence. Navy has helped us make the sea secure. But we want people to be the eyes and ears of police forces… Terrorists are bombing all parts of the globe, they are firing in theatres. They want to tell humanity that we can win. But if we stay united, we can prevent such a tragedy, another 26/11.”
Fadnavis remembered Tukaram Omble, the assistant sub-inspector who helped capture terrorist Ajmal Kasab and died in the process.
Bachchan recited father Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poem ‘Khoon ki chaap (Imprints of blood)’ as a tribute to families of the victims.
In a recorded interview, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar talked to retired marine commando Praveen Kumar, who had taken several bullets in his attempt to rescue people at the Taj hotel.
The memorial included an opening performance by students of the Shankar Mahadevan Academy, founded by singer-composer Shankar Mahadevan, along with CM Fadnavis’s wife Amruta Fadnavis. They were followed by playback singer Suresh Wadkar and Prasoon Joshi. Joshi, who is also the Censor board chairman, recited poems ‘Is baar nahin’ and ‘Dard ke parinde’, on the pain of losing a loved one and tapping into it to fight terrorism. Artistes Mame Khan and Priyanka Barve paid tribute to the victims through their songs. Amit Trivedi wrapped up the performances with his song.
“Any attack anywhere in the world brings back memories and the same emotions that we felt during these attacks on our soil,” said Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group. Referring to the 52 families interviewed over the past two years, he added, “Each one of them has had such inspiring stories of overcoming fear and anger… For many of the survivors we spoke with… their faith in humanity seems stronger than most people you and I would meet.”
Several families said the memorial was an opportunity to reflect on how Mumbai became victim of a terror attack of such large magnitude. “And how such an attack should not recur. We can never forget, and should not forget, those we lost,” said Savitri Gupta, whose husband was among those killed. She now lives with her two daughters in a Ghatkopar slum.
Divya Salaskar, daughter of the late Vijay Salaskar, the senior Crime Branch inspector who died in the attack, recited a poem that talked of the nine years since. “26/11 took away my life piece by piece. I remember how my brain grappled with fear. No action or tears were enough to bring my father back. He was my best friend and guide,” she said.
Vice-Admiral Luthra said, “26/11 showed us the courage of defence personnel and common people. In the last nine years, many have displayed courage to move on with life.”
Ankhi Das, director of public policy for Facebook in India, South and Central Asia, said that Facebook has been making an attempt to reach out to victims of attacks. “Their stories of faith and strength are important, must be told to people,” she said.