It's called "Last Two Names", and it's in the November issue of the magazine. And below. Your thoughts welcome.
One year since the November attacks. What's changed, my friends from out of town have asked through the year. The cynic that I am, my most truthful answer has to be "Nothing".
Sure, there was a lot of anger at the time, directed at politicians and the "system". Sure, there was a groundswell of calls to "stand together as Indians" to fight terrorism. Sure, all this led various "people's candidates" to stand for the Lok Sabha elections last May. But has the energy lasted a year, has it made a difference? Do we have better governance, security, justice than we did a year ago? Do we have less focus on the empty issues that only divide us -- think "sons of the soil", for just one of those -- and more on what binds us?
Of all things though, there is a widespread impatience with the ongoing trial of Kasab, the lone murderer caught alive. Only days before I wrote this, an otherwise thoughtful acquaintance sent me this exasperated note: "We bend over backwards to appear to be just, even though the proof of [Kasab's] guilt is there in technicolor."
Here's evidence of our attempt to live up to an ideal of law and justice -- that we are actually putting this man of all men through a trial -- rather than the murder and anarchy that's the preferred terrorist style, the anarchy Kasab's pals and trainers dearly want us to descend into. Yet enough Indians seem impatient with even that. Forget the trial and hang Kasab in public, they demand. Shoot him down like he shot people down, they demand.
Why would we want to imitate terrorists? And if we did, would that not be their greatest triumph?
Yes, I'm cynical about and dismayed by where we find ourselves a year after the attacks. That's why I find a strange comfort instead in one story out of the many in that tragic four-day maelstrom, a story that gives me an out-of-the-ordinary perspective on both the massacre and our condition, one year later. For instead of cynicism and anger, it is about spirit and enthusiasm. It is about the old and affectionate ties to India that brought a middle-aged couple to my city last year. My city.
And being about those things, for me it is a good reminder of the enormity of last year's tragedy.
As a young girl growing up in Delhi in the late 1950s, Daphne Thomas was a member of the Delhi Polo Club. This afforded her assorted unusual delights, like riding along the Yamuna River and Sunday hunts and what she called "wonderful Tent Picking Shows". But what she remembered best was learning polo from a young officer in the Presidential bodyguard. As she wrote to him in October 2008, 50 years older, this was "a most courageous thing [for him] to do."
I don't know why she thought that. Perhaps she had been a particularly obstreperous student of polo? In any case, she continued in that letter, she wrote it "in the hope of being able to bring a smile and a few memories back of what seems to me another life." She addressed it to Brigadier Sawai Bhawani Singh, Maharajah of Jaipur. As if in a fairy tale, the charming young officer of a little girl's memory had grown up to be a real-life Maharajah.
But why did she write to His Majesty, fully half a century on? Because she and her husband, Juergen, were going to travel through India in late 2008, together revisiting her youthful memories for the first time.
Daphne's India connection goes back to well before her polo lessons, all the way to British times. Her father, Geoffrey Benion Thomas, was a distinguished doctor who spent years in this country. Trained in gynaecological surgery, he was a professor of Medicine in Madras before Independence. Daphne was born there. After 1947, he was Senior Medical Officer at the British High Commission in New Delhi, and among his patients in those years were ladies of the royal family of Jaipur.
Perhaps the good doctor was attending to them even while a son from that family was teaching polo to his young daughter.
As for Juergen, he was looking forward to this Indian journey too, and for his own reasons. After an illustrious career with the German Air Force and NATO, Juergen had turned to photography in his retirement, and India would be a visual feast. As a relative later wrote to me, he was "thrilled to be touring India as a photographer."
And this pilgrimage to the land of Daphne's birth, this journey here with her husband of many years, was also a celebration for her. For she was in remission from an attack of ovarian cancer a couple of years earlier.
Through most of 2008, Daphne and Juergen planned their trip. A travel agent in Trichy drew up a tough but rewarding schedule for them: Delhi, Rajasthan for two weeks taking in the Pushkar camel fair, Kerala, Goa and then Bombay.
Here in her beloved India finally, the occasional breathless email message to family in the US spoke of a hectic, happy journey. "We will need a rehab when we get back," she wrote about halfway into it. Right on schedule, Daphne and Juergen flew Kingfisher Airlines to Bombay on their last day. Their flight home to Germany was not till much later that night, so they had several hours to spend in my city. The travel agent had arranged a car and driver for them. So they took in the sights of South Bombay: Marine Drive, the Gateway, Flora Fountain, Victoria Terminus. Juergen bought himself some Punjabi music. They stopped for a final Indian dinner, thinking they would go to the airport directly after their meal.
My city, my city.
Nearly 24 hours after they stopped for dinner, my phone rang. It was an old school chum, calling from Boston. Friends of his there, he told me, were trying to get news of relatives, a couple who had come to Bombay. The driver they had hired for the evening had dropped them off for dinner, but in the mayhem that then overwhelmed that part of the city, he hadn't heard from them again. Any way I could use journalist contacts to find out what had happened?
I promised to try. Then, just as he was about to hang up, I remembered something. Wait, I said, stay on the line, let me check this blog I know about that's been posting various details about the attacks, mumbaihelp.blogspot.com. Pulled it up on my laptop, and there in Boston, he did the same. The second item, a list of names. Pulled that up on my laptop, and there in Boston, he did the same. The last two names on the list: "Shri Jurgem Hetraz Rudalf" and "Smt Studdar Daphne".
Mangled in the transcription, but there could be little doubt. Juergen and Daphne Schmidt, on the last night of a trip 25 years in the making. Daphne and Juergen, rounding off a memorable Indian safari with dinner at a Bombay institution, a Lonely Planet tourist favourite: Cafe Leopold.
Juergen and Daphne. On a crisp Wednesday evening in November a year ago, among the first of nearly two hundred slaughtered by heavily armed terrorists.
My city, my city.