November 26, 2008 was my luckiest day, at least in terms of being in the right place at the right time. Or maybe just not being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I had been in Mumbai, India for four days and was just starting to get to know a tiny fraction of the city. When my plane had touched down I had breathed a sigh of relief. I had just spent a month travelling solo through East Africa by bus and motorcycle, with most of my time spent in a little Uganadan town near the DRC border. To me, landing in India meant a more developed country, family friends to take me in, and people who spoke my language. To me, it felt safe.
I was staying with the Davar family, some friend’s of my Uncle’s, in the Maker Towers. The guest room had marble floors, air conditioning and high speed internet. They had a staff, including a masseuse. They had dogs for me to hang with. The uncle was an esteemed Bollywood choreographer. One daughter, Shaheen, was an up and coming fashion designer, and the other, Daneesh, worked at Vogue India. Both were stunning. If MTV ever does a reality show in Mumbai, I can see this family being involved. They were hospitable and kind and I can’t thank them enough for my longer-than-intended stay.
In the early evening of November 26th I met some friends from home, Bevan and Chantal, at the Gateway to India. They were on their own trip in this unbelievable country and when we realised our paths were going to cross for a few hours on this one day, we made a point to meet up. We shopped along Colaba Causeway. We ate too much at this Thali restuarant I had fallen in love with. We played tourist in the Taj Hotel, one of the country’s finest.
And as we walked out the side door of the Taj Hotel, a group of armed young men walked in the main entrance and started rounding up people in the lobby. Oblivious, Bevan, Chantal and I walked up to Colaba Causeway and briefly deliberated grabbing a drink at Cafe Leopold, a nearby touristy spot I had discovered earlier in the week. No was a an quick and easy decision. We were tired, it was getting dark, their train left at midnight and my flight to Tamil Nadu was leaving the next morning. We said good bye and I hailed a taxi. As I was climbing in Shaheen called and told me there were gunshots fired at the Taj Hotel and I needed to get out of there. I didn’t pay it much mind, after my time in East Africa I had become accustomed to occasional gun shots. While en route, Daneesh called me to say that there had been shootings along Colaba Causeway–Cafe Leopold to be exact–and I needed to get home. Whoa. I was in their living room less than 10 minutes later and the attacks were all over the news. In addition to the two places I had literally just been, there were several other targets, including the Trident Oberoi Hotel and Nariman Towers both of visible from the large marble patio of the Davar family home.
I called my boyfriend (at the time), he wanted me to come home. I called my family, they wanted me to stay safe and keep travelling. I called the Canadian Embassy and they wanted me just to stay put until further notice. For the next three days I sat in the lap of luxury, glued to the TV. I could see and hear the grenades go off in real time and then 2 seconds later see them live on the news. It was surreal. It was also hard to assure my friends and family that I was fine, that I was safe, when every time we spoke they could hear make-shift bombs going off so closely in the background. They would google my location and see how close I was to the targets and lose it.
For too many reasons to mention, I boarded a flight to Vancouver as soon I was cleared by the Canadian Embassy to travel. The Davar family hired a private security car to take me to the airport. As soon as I got there a weight lifted off my shoulders and for the first time throughout this whole situation I started to cry. And then I found an airport bar and I started to drink. I drank until I heard my name being called over the PA and I thought to myself, Seriously. After everything that’s happened, the one thing that’s going to make me miss my flight home is getting acci-drunk at the airport bar? Typical. I sprinted to the gate and caught my flight.
November 26 2008 was my luckiest day because I missed being in the wrong place at the wrong time by a margin so narrow it’s hard to comprehend. But it wasn’t a lucky day for a lot of people. 164 people died on November 26, 2008 and many more were injured and traumatized. A lot of Canadians don’t even remember these attacks. A lot of terrible things happen a lot of the time and it’s easy to lose track. But I’ll remember this one for always, grateful for the luck I had.