Thing about roaming in a time of terror attacks is how things take on a different light. It starts with Bandra station, where some juice vendor has a big wheel running, part of his fruit-squeezing machine. Naturally, the thought comes to me, that thing might be like a wheel of life, turning normally here while only 15 miles south, the world's going crazy.
Just a stray thought as I embark on those 15 miles. Still, there's more normalcy.
The men playing cards on the train, exactly as groups on trains always do. The man reading an article in the paper that's headlined "Rahul knew that Ashu was going to win ...". The chaps standing in the doorway craning their necks at Dadar station to catch somebody's cleavage on a "Sorry Bhai" poster. The teen wearing a T-shirt reading "Advanced Basic Style Fanction World", getting ready to disembark. The kids playing cricket at one of the Marine Drive Gymkhana grounds, and the Police Gymkhana is completely empty. The two men sitting on incongruous blue swivel chairs on Veer Nariman Road.
I pass all these people, and I wonder: they too must think about what I can't get out of my head right now. So is there a normalcy despite, during, terror?
But of course, at the two hotels it is hard to find anything approaching normalcy, unless it's the host of dragonflies that swarm just inches above everyone's heads. There are cameramen everywhere. Young women saunter about telling their cellphones that "Gunshots have been heard, an alert has been sounded." Barkha Dutt tells her phone that the Prime Minister will not speak till the operation is over.
The couple near me asks a man who's chatting with them -- wife nodding her approval of this particular question -- "Minister mare kya?" "Have any ministers died?" When the man shakes his head, the husband says "Minister ko marne do, aatankwadi band!" "Let a minister die, and that'll be the end of terrorism." Wife nods some more.
There's another of the now regular commotions. Cameras run over. Musclebound man beside me, Tshirt that reads "When I'm Good I'm Very Good, When I'm God I'm even Better", he looks in that direction and says to nobody in particular: "Range-wale aa gayen." "Range people have come."
I think he means "Rangers", and there is a contingent of Navy men striding into Nariman Point as we speak. I don't think they have ever been called "Range-wale", but never mind, everyone understands what the man means.
Now he points along the seawall, to several firemen taking a rest there. In Marathi, he tells a friend they are all Army men. The friend, I imagine, will point out that they are not, that they are firemen. But instead he replies with one word: "Cover?" Mr Universe says one word in turn: "Ho". "Yes".
I'm baffled as I stand there. This day, that's normal.
But also as I stand there on the seawall with so many others and look up at the Trident, I cannot help the thought, and it comes to me again and again. How easy it would be for one of these terrorists to look out a window high up there, point his gun at us and squeeze the trigger. Squeeze it for long minutes, watching as his tiny missiles mash their way into their musclebound, or not, targets.
And in fact, that's about what happens, sometime during these horrific hours, at the Taj.
I'm frightened as I stand there. This day, that's normal too.