Tuesday, December 2, 2008

From Mosman with love: heed wisdom of Gandhi

Darshak Mehta.

Darshak Mehta.

RESHMA and Sunil Parekh were among the first to die when gunmen forced their way into the Tiffin restaurant at Oberoi Hotel in Mumbai, but it was 44 hours before their family in Sydney had confirmation of the terrible news.

Reshma was shot in the head; beside her, her husband lay with a bullet hole in the back of his neck. Their dinner companions had also been murdered.

Darshak Mehta knew all four. Reshma was his wife's beloved sister and the dinner companions were also friends. A cousin was luckier. Celebrating with family at a Lebanese restaurant on the rooftop of the Taj hotel, they escaped even while carrying an immobile family matriarch down 19 floors of fire stairs.

"If anyone has the right to be angry and stir up a lust for revenge it is me," said Mr Mehta, 51, of Mosman, the son of a wealthy Mumbai family who knew many of those caught up in the terrorist attacks. He and his wife, Alpana, have lived in Australia for the past 20 years.

Mr Mehta said he wanted to speak about his loss not to generate publicity for "a terrible, terrible tragedy" but because he was concerned that media commentary on Muslims has been damaging and inflammatory.

"I don't think at a time like this you really need to stir passions. We are still extremely raw."

He said every Indian he knew was angry about what had happened. Venomous words from Western commentators who assumed they could represent the victims were presumptuous and did not help, and the incendiary approach of grouping all Muslims with the actions of a few extremists was wrong and "extremely counterproductive".

He would prefer to see coverage of the majority of Muslims who are as appalled as anyone by the terrorist acts. Muslims in India number 120 million and, apart from a few highly publicised exceptions, there is relative communal amity.

"The silent [Muslim] majority have got to get up and speak out [against] people going around, in the name of their religion, killing people and spreading hatred. I am sure most of them don't share this agenda and philosophy, and yet they are strangely silent."

Mr Mehta believes now more than ever people need to think of Gandhi's words. "He said an eye for an eye will only leave the whole world blind. [And] be the change you want to see in the world."

"It would be so easy for me to be just angry. [The terrorists] have snuffed out two loving members of my family, left my two nieces orphaned - their world is crashing around them. If I was to meet the murderers I would not say … 'I hope you rot in hell'. If you don't forgive, you take yourself down to the level of that person. What will be achieved by being angry?"

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