Aboard a flight to Las Vegas, embarking on what was supposed to be a carefree Thanksgiving vacation, Naman Pugalia watched the news footage of the recent terrorist attacks in India with growing horror. The streaming live feeds brought images of terrorists attacking Pugalia's native city of Mumbai, killing innocent civilians, officers and tourists in the very neighborhood he calls home. One of the world's largest cities was paralyzed in the process.
Brandeis student Naman Pugalia has formed "Revive Mumbai" with the help of fellow students to help reinvigorate his native city in India following the recent terrorist attacks there.
Deeply and personally affected by the attacks, it didn't take long for Pugalia to decide he had to do something substantive to help.
A senior at Brandeis University in Waltham, Pugalia, 21, recently launched an initiative designed to help his native city get back on its feet. Dubbed Revive Mumbai and introduced with help from other Brandeis students, the effort pledges support for victims of the attacks, aid in the reconstruction of monuments damaged in the assaults, scholarship funds promoting peace and the advancement of a thoughtful dialogue examining the root causes and solutions to combating global terrorism.
For Pugalia, the attacks in Mumbai struck extremely close to home. The terrorists primarily targeted his native neighborhood of South Mumbai, an affluent and very densely populated area of the city that Pugalia calls a "very close-knit society." Pugalia lost a close family friend, Hemant Karkare, Mumbai's anti-terrorism squad chief, who was gunned down in the attacks. A friend for over 15 years, Pugalia called Karkare "an excellent human being" who earned respect from all those he served with. Several of Pugalia's longtime and childhood friends lost parents in the attack, and more than a dozen of his high school classmates saw relatives killed in the carnage.
And yet in the attack's aftermath, Pugalia is calling for caution and restraint as India ponders how to respond to the attacks and talk of war with Pakistan seems to increase with each passing day. Back home in Mumbai for the Christmas break, Pugalia told INDIA New England that the consensus among many in India is that war with Pakistan is necessary and inevitable, pointing out that the initial flood of mass peace rallies and candlelight vigils in the immediate aftermath of the attacks have now given way to angry rallies of citizens threatening to withhold their taxes unless the country attacks Pakistan scenes that Pugalia calls "extreme and disturbing." Pugalia is particularly critical of those who have likened the Mumbai assaults to America's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"As devastating as it was, Mumbai was not Sept. 11. India is not the United States of America and Afghanistan is not Pakistan," said Pugalia. "The rhetoric is disheartening and it's not doing anything to help solve the underlying problems."
Mumbai came to a virtual grinding halt in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, and even today Pugalia says a sense of apprehension and tension hangs over the city. Hotels in the city are now "fortresses," Pugalia said, and shopping malls, rail stations and office buildings are open, but with strict security and smaller crowds. Getting reservations to his favorite restaurant in Mumbai is significantly easier now, Pugalia said, because crowds in the city have thinned so much.
"The attacks have irreversibly changed what Mumbai as a city is about," he said.
Now Pugalia worries that a sense of apathy has emerged in India after the attacks. He cites the low turnout in recent elections there and notes that widespread pledges to refrain from celebrations of Christmas and New Year's Day in the country out of grief largely have been ignored.
"I think my hope was that [the attacks] would really raise awareness, that they would lead to a lot of lively dinner conversations across the country," Pugalia said. "But India is a country with a very short-term memory. We tend to forgive too easily and forget too quickly."
Pugalia said he decided to venture out of India to attend Brandeis largely because of the school's well-known commitment to social justice, a hallmark he says that has only been solidified by his education and experience at the university.
"No educational institution in America has done as much as Brandies has in response to the attacks," Pugalia said, citing offers of support from faculty members and administrators at the college and the outpouring of grief displayed on campus at two candlelight vigils, as well as a reflective roundtable discussion hosted by the university. The attacks also occurred as the university worked to expand its "Brandeis India Intiative," a multi-pronged effort designed to strengthen the school's relationship with India.
As a primarily Jewish institution, the Brandies community was particularly shaken by the attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, which left Rabbi Rabbi Gavriel and his wife Rivika Hortzberg dead. The couple's 3-year-old son was saved thanks only to the quick work of their Indian nanny.
As part of the initiative Pugalia has proposed the "Rabbi Gavriel and Rivika Hortzberg Scholarship for Peace," designed to help students of limited means from South Asia attend school at Brandeis. Pugalia now is working to raise funds to make the scholarship a reality.
"I firmly believe that the Rabbi's death should be commemorated in ways that exemplify our commitment to uproot terrorism with Gandhian principles, especially limitless compassion," Pugalia said.
Pugalia said he plans to return to India upon his graduation from Brandeis in May and intends to embark on a 120-day trip across India immediately after graduation in an effort to better understand his native country. He hopes to find a career working in the field of social justice, he said.
For more information on the Revive Mumbai initiative, visit www.revivemumbai.wordpress.com or contact Naman Pugalia at email@example.com.