The Gateway of India, at first instance, appears to be an odd frame for the type of conversations that follow. It was, after all, built to commemorate a state visit of a foreign invader.
But rather than tearing down the Gateway after our liberation, we absorbed it and attached our own meanings - hospitable welcome and an openness to the world - to it while simultaneously leaving it intact as a reminder of the British Raj, so we knew that also passed. And it passed because of our collective might. We overcame it by the solidarity of peaceful resistance.
The Gateway, therefore, in its contemporary complexity of meanings, is a locus of reflection and debate. There could not be a more appropriate symbol to commemorate the cowardly attacks on November 26, 2008, at various places across our (Mumbai) city.
To me, these attacks were a wake-up call. But the question I asked myself was: "Wake up, yes, but wake up to what?"
I woke up to a new era of violence, a new kind of violence - one inflicted by terrorism. I woke up to the fact that terrorism is not an ideology. It is an act of scaring a peaceful people; an act of evoking the fear of sudden, untimely death. It is an act of negotiating at gunpoint.
Terrorism is not an act of faith. Terrorism can never replace another ideology. Whatever the political rhetoric may be, terrorism is neither a form of justice nor an instrument of justice. It is the whimsical randomness of evil.
So how does an unarmed, peaceful humanity fight the fear of terrorism's sudden violence? How does anyone who believes in a life of merit and hard work begin to believe in the authority of guns and bombs? Will armed mercenaries decide the future of our children? Will the threat of violence point us to the causes that we fight for? Will terror decide what is true-false, correct-incorrect, good-bad and right or wrong? No.
Terror does no such thing; terror does not decide anything. Terror only hopes to bluff that evil can be stronger than humanity, that hate can be mightier than love. It is now for each one of us to decide if we want our children to accept this evil doctrine or show them that terror does not have a place in our hearts.
An estimated 20 lakh people were killed during the Partition of our country in 1947, and several times more displaced. When people are divided by distrust, when friends and neighbours stop trusting each other, when a nation turns into hostile islands of fear, then our world is broken into fragments, divided by narrow domestic walls.
This is precisely what terror aims to achieve. Terror does not preserve anything, it is designed to destroy. Once unleashed, terror cannot be stopped by a debate. An act of terror, therefore, is not open to negotiations or to wisdom. It can only be repelled, repulsed and destroyed by a more powerful reaction. There are no two ways about that. A corrective action is necessary.
But it does not end there. When a farm is infested by weeds, a weed-killer does not stop them from growing again after the next rains. The farmer has to pull them out, one by one, every single weed, by its roots.
Terror must be rooted out. We know that the war on terror worldwide has not eliminated the root cause of terrorism so far. And it doesn't look likely, if the same method is expected to generate different results. And here is where I think we must fall back on Mahatma Gandhi's satyagraha, which in its truest form is the persuasion of truth.
The perception that moderates are not relevant in the war on terror is rather myopic. Moderates are not part of this struggle because both the handlers of terror and the agents of resistance consider them to be passive and disempowered. Yet, the prime victims of terror are the moderates. More than 70 per cent of our nation is moderate. And as moderates, we must recognise that to vilify a foe is no victory at all, but to understand a foe is the first act of strength in resistance.
And to understand a foe, one must first understand oneself. To understand ourselves, we must ask not what we are against, for that is defining ourselves by the ideas of our foe, by their power. Rather, to understand ourselves, we must ask what we are for. We can only understand ourselves together.
To understand ourselves as a collective is to find the time for debate, discussion, argument, listening to each other, trying to understand differing points of view, engaging, challenging our ways of thinking and honouring each other with compassion. These are the answers to violence and death. If we are to be for anything, then to start with, what we must be for is each other. That is solidarity, and history has shown that our country's solidarity is as strong as an oak tree.
The colonial rulers laughed at Mahatma Gandhi when he spoke of this vision. His passive resistance suffered unimaginable brutality during its campaign. But we know the result - it demolished the foundations of imperialism from the face of the earth.
The time has come for us moderates to unite once again. It is time to invoke the Mahatma's satyagraha of peaceful, non-violent non-cooperation. We must boycott not only violence, but also everything that breeds it. We must rise up in one voice as a nation of moderates, and say: "No!"
To the terrorist that one "no" will have the most impact. It's very simple: A parasite cannot kill and survive in the same host at the same time. We must refuse to host terrorists. And today standing at the foot of the Gateway, this is my prayer:
"All those who live for humanity, all those who live for the children of tomorrow, must now realise that it is time to rise, and say, 'No!' Uproot every weed from your surroundings. Do not threaten, do not fight, do not kill, do not injure. Simply refuse to cooperate, at any cost. Do not feed the evil; do not host the parasite called the terrorist. And then, may we all live in the dream of Gurudev's words: ‘Into that Heaven of Freedom, my Father, let my country awake'."
(Extracted with permission from Penguin Random House India from the foreword of '26/11: Stories of Strength', published in collaboration with The Indian Express and edited by Kavitha Iyer. The copyright of this article rests with the author.)