Last year on the 26th of November I was taking a class at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism when the class heard that terrorists had attacked India. All the wide screens in school started flashing breaking news alerts and as I left class I started getting calls asking me if I had family in Mumbai. As I stepped out on the crowded streets near 42nd street Times Square, my mind tried to grasp what hundreds of people would be experiencing in Mumbai, the financial capital of India.
Months later, a Mumbai taxi driver told me his story of driving people from one scene of attack to the other, taking people to safety. He had passengers crying in the back seat and through the crazy traffic and gunfire he was unaware that terrorists had hit his city.
When the attacks happened in 2008, I was living down in TRiBeCa, which is the Triangle Below Canal Street in Manhattan. It was ironic to be living so close to ground zero. The city or town where you live tends to resonate with you and there were many times when I had imagined the chaos, tragedy, pain, smoke and horror that must have ravaged my neighborhood.
The incredible violence unfolding in India was everywhere – in the news, on the Internet, on headlines and in conversations literally as it all occurred. The attack at Victoria Terminus station, which holds more people than both Grand Central and Times Square combined; open fire on innocent tourists having a drink in Leopold Café; the murder of peaceful folks at the Jewish Centre; the opulent Taj Hotel invaded and broken, smoking through the siege and all the other spots which the terrorists attacked on their organized terror trail. The chaos, tragedy, pain, horror and smoke that I witnessed were the same as what I imagined while walking around ground zero. They were the same painful human emotions stemming from the same acts of inhumanity
Sometimes we encounter suffering in the form of a homeless person, desolate on the streets, and are immune to their suffering. But when greater numbers of people come in contact with suffering, that energy can create a shift and move others to change. I guess any loss depends on what we choose to do with it and that determines if we overcome it.
Those days I was planning my thesis project for my Masters Program at Hunter College. I had written a 14-page proposal on a documentary film about Christian Yoga. Being Indian and a yoga teacher this new phenomenon that had started in America fascinated me. But, as I stayed up watching the terror playing out in India on my laptop, I felt a restless need to help. While in school I had interviewed Indian and Pakistani taxi drivers in New York about their perspectives on the World around us. They spoke from the vantage point of meeting people from all around the globe, which made them mobile gurus of our times.
In a flash of inspiration I decided to change my project. I would travel to Mumbai and capture conversations between taxi drivers and passengers. I wanted to understand what people felt at a grassroots level. What the ordinary man went through and how he coped with such tragedies.
I filmed in Mumbai taxis and spoke to many ordinary people about what happened. One of the women drivers spoke about how the very next day after the attacks people were out and about, taking the local train, catching taxis, going to work. I learned many things and one of them is that life goes on. ‘This too shall pass’ encapsulates the impermanence of life. How fleeting and fragile everything truly is and how resilient and strong the heart can be. In times of tragic events like terrorism we empathize and feel a spiritual connection with strangers. Helping hands are a plenty. Taxi drivers can transform into fire fighters that deserve medals for their newfound courage.
This year is the first Anniversary of the tragic terrorist attacks is November 26. The date coincides with an important holiday. I know many people on the streets of Mumbai will light a candle in remembrance of those they lost. World over, other people will celebrate Thanksgiving and I hope, truly give thanks, cherish their loved ones and show gratitude. Terror and tragedy can strike anyone and life has no guarantees. But each dawn is a new beginning and anything is possible with a good heart.
Vandana Sood lives in New York City and is pursuing an MFA at Hunter College's renowned Integrated Media Arts Program. You can see her graduate project online at TheTaxiTakes.com.