It is hard not to notice the contrast between the heroism of ordinary Indian citizens and the seemingly inept official governmental response to the terrorists in Mumbai. In the Mumbai train station for instance, over 60 policemen (admittedly, underarmed) were on duty; the gunmen were out in the open; yet, not one of the policemen attempted to shoot the terrorists. In the hotels, about 10 gunmen, up against a force of over 1000 commandos and other law enforcement officials, were able to stay alive for over two days and wreak havoc.
In the same train station, hotels and in restaurants, ordinary Indian citizens behaved heroically risking and in some cases giving their lives to help their countrymen and foreign nationals. In contrast, those in the military and police forces were bound by their “rule books” and bound by a rigid command-and-control hierarchy that was issuing the plan. Their response was slower and less fluid than the situation demanded. How could it have been otherwise? The terrorists were not operating under a central command.
This is not a post written to criticize the Indian military. In the United States at the Columbine High School massacre, innocents were slaughtered or died of their injuries while the SWAT team “staged” outside the high school for an inexcusable amount of time before responding. Unresponsive bureaucracies know no national boundaries.
But this is a post about the heroism of ordinary Indians and the great cosmopolitan city of Mumbai—a city of Hindus, Moslems, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Jews—where tolerance is the norm.
One of the targets of the murderers was the Chabad House—an orthodox Jewish outreach center located in a poor, Muslim neighborhood—run by Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. Immediately, Mumbai taught the world of the character of its citizens—residents in the area, presumably Muslims and Hindus, pelted the terrorists with stones in an attempt to stop them from entering the Chabad House. Some of these residents may have paid with their lives. I wish I could tell you more of their heroic actions, but no account I could find—Indian or American—had more details.
The terrorists entered the Chabad House. Two Indian nationals, employees of the House, Sandra Samuels, a Christian nanny to toddler Moishe Holtzberg (the son of the Rabbi and his wife), and Zaki Hussein, a Muslim, were able to escape the initial carnage and hide themselves away.
The next morning, Sandra heard little Mosihe crying out for her, “Sandra! Sandra! Sandra!” Leaving her safe nest, Sandra made her way up to the second floor where she found two-year old Moishe crying over his parents’ wounded or dead bodies. She scooped up Moishe; and then with Zaki standing watch at the door, Sandra fled the building.
“This baby is something very precious to me; what else could I have done?” Sandra said rhetorically as she tried to explain why she was not a hero. Indeed, Sandra, Zaki, and the neighbors of the Chabad House had functioned as human beings were meant to. There was no time to consult a rule book, there was no one to issue commands, they had no thoughts of “what is in for me.”
Bryon Katie in her book A Thousand Names for Joy has written: “To think that we need sadness or outrage to motivate us to do what’s right is insane… Love is action. It’s clear, it’s kind, it’s effortless, and it’s irresistible.”
In our own lives today, we can honor the bravehearts of Mumbai by doing what we truly value. Doing what is precious to us and not what is expedient or easier, because Love is indeed effortless.
In 1970, Neil Diamond wrote a song “Done Too Soon”—a simple song that may well have been about the common humanity that the victims of the Mumbai murderers share. The last verse is:
And each one there
Has one thing shared:
They have sweated beneath the same sun,
Looked up in wonder at the same moon,
And wept when it was all done
For bein’ done too soon.