Between you and me

If you think you have no connection with the horrid attacks in Mumbai, think again — I found out that you, reader who knows me, are at most four degrees of separation from a couple who was murdered by the attackers. Three degrees if you have a connection to my first (and only) publishing job in Singapore.

But before you blast an outright, final, never-to-be-repealed ray of condemnation at the mass murderers, try putting yourself in their shoes and walking around a bit, imagining what their lives must have been like to be willing to follow through with this mayhem and carnage. Done?

OK. The past does not justify the deed, of course. And they didn’t just set off a bomb belt strapped to themselves, embracing oblivion without having to face their victims — these human beings mercilessly, ruthlessly, purposefully, efficiently set about shooting bullets and lobbing grenades at defenceless men, women and children, even slitting their throats to finish the job. It is a dark level of depravity that picks off its victims one by one by one:

… they had executed a six-year-old in front of his parent …

… she saw the rabbi and his wife lying on the floor covered in blood when she left …

… he felt his legs collapse — a bullet had been shot through his lower back. A hand then grasped his hair, pulled back his head and a blade slit his neck …

… there was just blood and guts everywhere …

They left bodies with grenades stuffed into their mouths.

As Nicky Singer points out in “The Innocent’s Story”, empathy works both ways. Did these people expect the world to understand their pain by writing their message in blood and guts and grief? What lies have they been told? What lies did they tell themselves? How many other innocents (read: hapless Muslims and Kashmiris in Mumbai and other parts of India) will now have to bear the brunt of extremist anger? How many Muslims had been caught in their line of fire?

But you know what? This is never going to end without forgiveness from both sides of the story. The pure, moral voices must be raised. The grasping, political noises must be muted. Who will do this? Who will descend into the fray and break the viselike grip of hatred and selfishness? Or even better — couldn’t 1.1 billion hearts and voices espousing Gandhigiri go a long way — all the way — towards building a bridge of reconciliation?

Death, the great leveller, cares not a whit how brightly a life gleamed or how dire a shadow it cast over other lives. As a Christian, I believe in a beyond, a life or further death beyond. Where exactly that is going to take us, I don’t know for sure-sure, though I do have a good idea. But I’m quite certain that what we do in the present has a direct bearing upon that starlit future.

Buildings are just buildings. Lives and the stories they tell make up what’s important. If any good whatsoever can come out of this disaster for all humankind, then it is something to be thankful for, I would think.

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Pleb's eye view of the Taj Mahal Hotel in January 2007

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