Was it a gang war that broke out? But it was in the heart of Mumbai – Mumbai’s underworld couldn’t be taking that big a risk, however drastic the cause.
So who was shooting? And a taxi blew up too? Wasn’t it miles away from Taj?
As I unpacked at my Mamaji’s place in Mumbai, more such comments were being heard. I’d reached Dadar a little over an hour ago and was freshening up for dinner. The next couple of days were going to be insane – lots of people to meet, pots of shopping to do before heading back to Dubai. I just wanted to get the stress and fatigue of my friend’s wedding in Delhi out of my system.
Stress? At a friend’s wedding? Why would I be stressed at a friend’s wedding, you’re probably wondering. Well, that’s because at the same time as my friend, there were about 40,000 other people in Delhi getting ready to pledge their loyalty, their life and their existence to their soul mates. And one such couple was Rohit’s first cousin.
And I, being Rohit’s girlfriend at the time, was coaxed and cajoled into attending the wedding reception and to then have a mini “muh-dihayee”, as it were. This shouldn’t have been that big a deal had he toned down on the extent of his affection for me in front of his family. More so since no one in my family except my brother Shashank knew what was going on between us. Long story short – I met his family and belatedly realized that there had been no reason to stress over! I was showered with nothing but good wishes and love.
With Rohit in Dubai and me in Mumbai, I could finally heave a sigh of relief and unwind. Which is exactly what I’d planned to do in the four days I was to spend in Mumbai.
And if only life went on as planned!
A few hours after I reached Mumbai on 26 November 2008, there were confused, unsure reports trickling in of some kind of a shoot-out happening around The Taj Mahal Palace. As the minutes turned into hours, the severity of what was happening hit us hard.
This wasn’t a gang war. This wasn’t a drunken-shooting incident. This wasn’t a poor-little rich boy’s venting session with his well-connected father’s licensed pistol.
This was war. War on Mumbai. This was war on India soil.
Within minutes of first being termed as a terrorist attack, Mamaji’s landline started ringing off the hook. The first call was from my parents who sat in Dubai, knowing that I’d landed in Mumbai a little while ago. Despite knowing that I was at home with family members, safe and sound, they sounded stressed. I reassured them that I was safe and wouldn’t be venturing out on my own.
All this time, I kept looking at my phone, wondering why I hadn’t heard from Rohit yet. He would usually send me a text or two in an hour, at least. Maybe he hadn’t heard about the shooting. Regardless, this was very unlike him.
I sent him a text a just to see if things were ok. Within seconds the text bounced back. Now, I knew I had enough credit, so that couldn’t be the issue. I didn’t want to call him from the landline and have him calling back, in case I missed speaking to him. Since I’d told Shashank a few days ago, obviously no one in Mumbai knew about the two of us.
Whom could I possibly take into confidence? I had to get in touch with him somehow!
Since it was rather late at night, I decided to let it go for the time being. He was probably stuck at work. He’d call or text when he had the time. There was really no point stressing. On that note I drifted off to sleep.
It was when I checked my phone in the morning and didn’t see a message or a missed call from him that I really began to wonder what was going on. I took my cousin into confidence and told her I needed to use her phone to get in touch with Rohit. I gave her a brief round-up of who he was and boy was she thrilled! I’m not an emotionally-open person in general, so it must’ve been quite a shock for her to hear me talking about him.
This time around the text went through to Rohit and within seconds my cousin’s phone rang. I answered and ran out of the house for some privacy.
“Hey you, Mr. Bu– “, before I could finish, there were a gazillion profanities that I encountered, followed by an equal number of questions.
“Where on earth have you been? Why is your phone not working? I’ve been trying to call you since last night! Have you seen the news?! Do you know how worried I’ve been? Well, say something!”, he exclaimed.
“I’ll say something as soon as you give me a chance to!”, I managed.
“Yaar…what’s going on? Are you ok? Is everyone there ok?”, there was a resignation, a concern in his voice I’d never heard before.
“We’re all okay. Relax, we’re fine. They must’ve blocked off external sim cards. That’s the only reason I can think of for my phone not working. But I’m ok…really”, I went on.
The mood of the conversation suddenly went from concerned to drop-dead serious within a matter of seconds. “Swati, just come back, please. I just want you to come back. I can’t stand the thought of you being there all by yourself. I can’t stand the fact that you’re in an ounce of trouble – or could be in any potential danger”.
I had a mile wide smile plastered on my face as he said this. Our relationship was taking a new turn. Even though I sensed this new level we had gone to, I couldn’t have even imagined what he said next.
“I’ve…I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to speak to Mum tonight. Before you say anything, hear me out. I can’t bear this…I can’t have you so far away from me. I’m talking to Mum tonight about us. Now, either you talk to your parents, or I’ll ask Mum to do it directly. All I know is…I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I can’t get in touch with you again. Ever”, he declared. “I’ve been watching the news for the past two days, hoping against hope that I don’t see or hear your name. I’ve cringed every time something new from Mumbai is reported. I can’t…I can’t not be with you.”
As I listened to him talk, tears seemed to roll down my cheeks on their own accord. All I could do was smile and nod. Yes…yes, I wanted to be with him.
A month after this conversation on Christmas day Rohit went down on one knee and proposed. Our parents met subsequently and Rohit and I were warmly welcomed into each other’s families.
In June 2009, I married Rohit in Glasgow in a small yet unforgettable civil wedding ceremony. In August that same year, we had our much-awaited Bollywood style Delhi wedding.
And every single waking hour of my life I wonder what I’ve done to deserve an angel for a life partner.