On November 26, 2008, this gothic giant of a station was a breached fortress. On the first anniversary of the terror attacks, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) transformed into a temple.
Travellers, who kept coming in a steady stream through the day, took off their footwear just outside the entrance to the outstation section of the CST to pay floral tribute to those who died here. That ill-fated night, the terrorist duo Ajmal Amir Kasab and Ismail Khan entered the CST through this entrance, leading up to platform 13.
There, the two began firing indiscriminately, killing 57 people, the highest number at a single location. A year on, the corridor was lined with photographs recounting the stories of that night from various newspapers. Additionally, the Central Railway Mazdoor Sangh organised a blood donation drive at a tent put up near platforms 7 and 8.
Café Leopold remained abuzz with its usual mix of Indian and foreigner guests. However, a member of the staff said, “On other days, there are more people coming to the café. There are relatively few people today. Hopefully, more will come by evening. We only plan to observe two minutes of silence in memory of those who died here last year. Nothing else.”
At five minutes’ walk from the café, a group of 15 eighth standard girls from St. Anne’s School in Chira Bazaar gathered under a tree close to the Taj Mahal hotel.
They placed the photographs of martyrs Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar against the trunk of the tree and lit candles in homage.
One of the girls, Prachi Dave, said, “Our school gave us a half-day off today because of the anniversary of the terror attacks. We took permission from the principal and came here to pay our tribute.”
As someone shook the trunk, the tree bloomed forth with thousands of pigeons that took flight. They flew in file over the Arabian Sea in one smooth, continuous glide and returned to land. However, this time they perched on the huge Taj dome that terrorists had lobbed a grenade at last year. To many, the sight symbolised the oneness of all beings of the city in remembering its dead.
At the Trident at the end of Marine Drive, candles inside a glass cubicle set up outside the hotel flickered in the wind coming from the sea, from where terrorists had entered Mumbai a year ago. As urchins enquired about what was going on, the staff of the hotel went about scratching off the remnants of extinguished candles and smoothening out the creases in the red carpet in a display of their professionalism.
High above, the glass windows of the hotel reflected the skyscraper-dotted sea that is so dear to Mumbai. In another context, the sight of the sea had inspired American author F. Scott Fitzgerald to pen the closing lines of his novel The Great Gatsby.
The lines resound with relevance now: “Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher, the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world... Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther... And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”