It sort of chews mercilessly at you as you chug through your day. It pulsates as you drive past knots of dead-bored cops. Or bump over pot-holed roads. Or past a drawing of a happy face that says India Smiling. It pricks sharply as you read articles on what politicians have to say. Vaihayasi Pande Daniel on every Mumbaikar's trauma
I have been reporting on Mumbai's terror blasts since this city's very first horrifying attack in 1993.
Now, nearly 20 years later, my blast reportage is -- sadly -- mechanical, an illustration of the terrible and unbelievable frequency of these appalling attacks.
Before setting out, I always call my husband and daughters and ask them to stay put, especially since my husband works in Nariman Point, Mumbai's business district, which has been vulnerable since the first attack.
I text my in-laws, family, colleagues and friends (particularly my jeweller friend who works in Zaveri Bazaar and has escaped danger a couple of times) to warn them and also to make sure they are safe.
Shock is beginning to work in my head in a low key fashion It has happened again... it has happened again it has happened AGAIN That realisation goes on echoing and beeping at the back of my brain. But you push away the shock. Roughly push away the pain. There's just no time for it now.
After the errors of 26/11, this time, I waited for the blasts to subside before heading out of the office, in case there were some live gunmen linked to this attack. One encounter with a Pakistani terrorist is one too many for a lifetime.
And then we were off to a blast site. On reaching I did a cold analysis of the spot in my mind. Kabutarkhana This one is not very big. It is just the length of a bus stop. Not many could have died here All the while you push away the pain.
We then head for the nearest municipal hospital to check on the casualties. First try and talk to the doctors, as and when they have a breather from stitching, swabbing, incising and patching up scores of victims All the while you push away the pain
I gingerly approach relatives of victims to hear their story. Even after 20 years, it is incredibly tough to go brazenly up to a family, that has just been touched by the horrors of terrorism, and ask them how they are coping.
While you are standing there the horrors of the attack swirl around you. Stretchers urgently rush past with the nameless dead, dying or wounded. John Does. Gauze, plaster, blood All the while you push away the pain.
The pain really breaks later. For the first few days you just wonder where your pain went. It is immensely perturbing that you feel less and less with each attack
Another blast, another victim, another body, another explosion, more blood, more tears, more unbearable stories.
The terror attacks, that you knew deep in your heart, with absolute certainty, would come again, are back. Like an unforgiving, merciless Mumbai season. We reporters are like surgeons. We have gotten used to the blood. We are immune to it.
The pain for me broke this morning in the car on the way to work when I glanced at the Indian Express and saw an evocative picture of a grieving young Mumbai boy at his brother's funeral.
The little faces of suffering children are always way too much to bear.
Equally unbearable was reading the Express article on how Mumbai, even today, has no EMS system and the dead and injured are still sped to hospitals in black and yellow taxis. That article brought memories rushing back of Mumbai's first attack. I remember standing at the Air-India building watching them load the dead and severely injured into taxis and speed them to the hospital.
Memories of that attack, when Mumbai lost 257 people, it being the first I have witnessed and the city witnessed, have always been the most raw. And deeply painful.
The names of some of the victims I have interviewed, or whose families I have met through the years of each attack, run through my head. I can remember them all. Sandra Samuel. Zakir Hussain. Kirti Ajmera. Anamika Gupta. Liladhar Sharma. Bhupendra Joshi. Vijay Surve. Bharat Waghela. Santosh Kanojia. Gavriel Holtzberg. Harish Gohel. Golee. Sharan Arasa.
Now the pain is back and it is unbearable.
It sort of chews mercilessly at you as you chug through your day. It pulsates as you drive past knots of dead-bored cops. Or bump over pot-holed roads. Or past a drawing of a happy face that says India Smiling. It pricks sharply as you read articles on what politicians have to say -- LK Advani says it is a policy failure not an intelligence failure. Rahul Gandhi says we can stop 99 per cent of the attacks but not 1 percent (what rot!).
Outside your window, the city is back to normal. Rain. Floods. Kids traipsing to school. Harried commuters at the bus stop.
Your mind wanders. Certainly death has to come to all of us. We are all either fathers, mothers, sisters, daughters, brothers, sons, spouses, neighbours or colleagues and we will lose our dear ones to illness, accidents or old age. We know that and can expect that. We expect our loved ones to depart that way, even if it is too sudden or too soon.
But death by terrorism is something much worse. It is simply horrifying. Why should we lose kin and city citizens, over and over and over again, with a deathly, deadly repetition, to people who planned our death, merely because we live in Mumbai?
It is an awful feeling to go on wondering when terrorism will hit you or your nearest. What must the victims of Mumbai's latest attack be thinking? What is Varsha Kariya or Shirish Kandalgaonkar thinking in their hospital bed at KEM hospial? What is Abhishek Das thinking as his father Baburam Das struggles for life at Saifee Hospital? What does Chetan Mujhapura feel, as he prays that his brother Shripal, admitted to Harkisondas Hospital, will pull through? They were probably prepared for this. They knew, like me, that it will hit them one day. And then that day finally came on July 13, almost 48 hours ago.
I have felt overpowering anger before, for our city's fate. I have felt anguish before. Numbness too. I have mourned before. Cried before. I have protested too when I marched in front of the Gateway of India with my daughters in 2008 along with other Mumbai citizens.
After a fifth catastrophic attack on this city what am I supposed to feel? What can I do? Is there anything that I can do at all?
Is there anything that any of us ordinary citizens can do?
I have a simple, frail option. I can keep writing about the victims of these attacks. I can keep telling their stories. Highlighting their tales. They need our help, our attention, our sympathy, our support, especially our financial support. Post this attack their lives will change beyond recognition, having lost a family member.
They are our fellow city citizens. We need to keep their memory alive.
Remember, tomorrow could be our turn. Mumbai's season of terrorism is far from over.