There is no outpouring of public anger, no frenzied cries for hanging Ajmal Kasab, no towering hoardings of martyred policemen in street corners that aroused feverish patriotism as Mumbai prepares for the second anniversary of the 26/11 terror attacks.
The outrage exemplified by shrill cries of “Hang Kasab” and “Death to Kasab” have given way to solemn acceptance of the tragedy despite an enduring sense of collective bereavement weakened in intensity with time.
This year again Mumbaikars will pay homage to their dead with prayer meetings, candle light vigils, a smart parade by the police force and renewed pledge to fight terror in the same undying spirit that saw it rise back to feet the morning after the 26/11 assault that sought to bring it down on the knees.
“Last year, the clinking of glasses was pretty loud here. This year it will be louder, trust me,” says Ratish, a corporate executive and a patron of Leopold Cafe, the backpacker’s favourite joint at Colaba.
It was here that fateful night of November 26 two years ago that the first bullet rang out from the Kalashnikov of a Pakistani terrorist that drowned the joyous clinking of glassware in cries of despair and death.
Within minutes, the bustling city of close to 14 million was besieged by fear as never before as its landmarks reverberated with gunfire and grenade blasts.
From the magnificent Taj Hotel playing host to the rich and the famous to the Cama Hospital tending to the sick and the dying, from little known Nariman House, a Jewish cultural and religious centre to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, an important cog in the machine that moves Mumbai - all witnessed in helpless agony the violence unleashed by Kasab and his band of terror merchants.
“At Leopold Cafe, though finding a vacant table will be as difficult as ever, we have not planned anything great. There will be a minute’s silence and candles will be distributed to our patrons to light in remembrance of those who left us on 26/11,” says Firang Jehani, its owner.
Last year, the Jehanis, who have not replaced the glass panels that have holes from bullets fired by the terrorists, had put on sale mugs commemorating the attacks.
The country’s hospitality icon, the Taj Hotel, whose flaming dome throwing plumes of thick black smoke skyward became one of the most enduring images of the 26/11 attack, has no special plans put in place for the day though Titan Watches is launching an exclusive collection of time pieces to commemorate the terror assault.
The proceeds from the sale of ‘Eternal Mumbai’ collection launched two days ahead of the anniversary will go to the Taj Public Welfare Service Trust.
“We have not organised anything special for the day as we want to put behind the memories of the past. We want to move on in life,” said a top Taj Hotel official, who did not want to be named.
The Oberoi-Trident Hotel has planned a “small and simple” ceremony with the staff in the memory of those killed in the attack, said Communications Manager Gauri Kichulu.
The terror siege at Taj left 38 dead including nine foreigners, while 35 were killed at Oberoi-Trident.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, his deputy Ajit Pawar and top State officials will pay homage to those killed in the attacks at the memorial at Police Gymkhana. 18 security personnel including two NSG commandos had made the ultimate sacrifice during the 60-hour siege.
The city police has organised a smart parade by its anti-terror arm, Force One, and Quick Response Teams on the Marine Drive. The parade will also showcase the state-of-the-art weaponry acquired in the aftermath of 26/11.
“While we saw extreme evil on one hand, we also experienced compassion of doctors, patients and even the smiling newspaper boy in front of the Bombay Hospital,” said Arne Stromme, the 55-year-old landscape architect from Norway who has returned to the city for the second anniversary of the attacks as “The call to return to India came from the heart.”
Arne escaped death by a whisker when a bullet grazed his face at Leopold Cafe but lost his Indian friend.
Just days before the second anniversary of the brazen terror onslaught, in a gesture loaded with symbolism, US President Barack Obama stayed at the Taj Hotel, which he described as the symbol of resilience of the Indian people, to pay homage to the Mumbai’s dead.
“Those who attacked Mumbai wanted to demoralise this city and this country. But they failed. Because the very next day, Mumbaikars came back to work. Hotel staff reported for their shifts. Workers returned to their businesses. And within weeks, this hotel was once again welcoming guests from around the world,” Mr. Obama said saluting the spirit of Mumbai.