Reflections from a Candlelight Vigil

December 4, 2008

Tonight I attended a candlelight vigil for Mumbai at Boston’s City Hall. A few hundred people were there — more South Asian faces than I’d normally see in a Boston crowd, and other faces of all kinds. The service was sometimes muffled by the sounds of the city, but simply being among so many people and religious leaders of several faiths, holding candles in the comfort of a circle, felt good and meaningful.

At the bus stop next to the vigil, a bus pulled up. Along the top were images of coffee beans, an Indian man… it was an Incredible India ad. I tugged the sleeve of the man next to me, needing a witness. His eyes lit up.

After the service, I lined up to write my ‘message to Mumbai’ in a book provided by the organizers. Vigil for Mumbai, by my much taller friend, AlexisI quickly read a few other messages; they were long and heartfelt.

The attack upset me deeply. In trying to stay connected and inform my worry, I was surprised by how much the geographical distance actually mattered. The U.S. mainstream media — television, radio, and Internet — were blank. The Web provided pockets of information and corners for emotional togetherness, but searching for them became too much (though I did find a few sites I can turn to in the future).

Sometimes conversation isn’t useful, and images shouldn’t be processed alone. I am grateful to the organizers of tonight’s gathering for bringing people together, and giving us thoughtful people to listen to. I hope the people of Mumbai know just how much their loss of life and security has touched people so far away.



4 Responses to “Reflections from a Candlelight Vigil”

  1. Andrew W Says:

    “I was surprised by how much the geographical distance actually mattered.”

    I was surprised myself by how quickly talk turned to geopolitics and retribution. That seems to be the pattern when there are attacks that we in the U.S. don’t have the background information to understand, which I suppose is another effect of geographical distance.

    My father-in-law was on the last subway out of the WTC station in 2001, and my wife’s cousin, who was just as close to the Towers, had to walk through subway tunnels to escape. Both still smart because the time for communal mourning, for processing what had happened, was cut short by discussions of whom to go after, by a search for some sort of justice. To New Yorkers like them, 9/11 was a one-day war, and New York lost. They needed time and space to recover from that, which they weren’t offered because a month later we were attacking Afghanistan in their name.

    I wonder if those military/political discussions are the way people engage in the discourse when they’re not directly affected–to be a part of the response when they know they weren’t as deeply scarred as someone who was there. I just hope you and everyone else at the vigil continue to have people to talk to, in some sort of joint-quiet, buffered from the inevitable noisy rhetoric.

  2. rekha6 Says:

    Very well put. A good reminder that the need for retribution doesn’t necessarily come first or most deeply from the people most directly affected.

    That said, there’s retribution, and there’s addressing an ongoing and serious problem. Terrorism needs to be dealt with, and efforts to do so shouldn’t always be assumed to be simply punitive. These might sometimes be violent, because the perpetrators are violent, but they can and should involve all sorts of creative and productive acts. I recently saw a media bit about the creation of secular schools in disadvantaged parts of Pakistan to counter the narrow curricula of many madrassahs. *That’s* a great idea.

  3. Ramesh A Says:

    This event, organized by the Mass Asian American Commission and the City of Boston, was attended by over 400+ Boston area residents of all backgrounds and faiths. The event was also held simultaneously in Worcester and Providence and was covered by their local print media.

    What was particularly troubling to me, as the key organizer was that this was a major public event organized by the Asian American Commission and the Boston Globe did consider this newsworthy when right after this, the annual lighting of the Christmas Tree on the Commons was and showed up the next day in the paper. Mayor Menino attended the vigil and spoke so eloquently along with Councilor Sam Yoon and thought it to be very relevant for Boston to be doing this.

    In particular, the event brought together, right here at home, in our city, Americans of Indian and Pakistani descent and religious leaders of 6 major faiths, the first time that I know of, that included Eastern religions – Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist along with the Western Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths. In particular, the common message of all speakers was well regarded and praised by all. The Muslim Imam, Dr. Talal Eid emphasized that such atrocities as in Mumbai are not Islamic and that not enough moderate Muslims speak up and more should do so like in this gathering. This kind of a message is more newsworthy than all the violence and activities that pull people apart that constantly seem to be newsworthy for many in the media.

    I do hope the freedom enjoyed by the Press here will make them think about how to make amends so that we work closer together to address and spread the positive and reflective activities of Asian Americans in general and also of Asian Americans of South Asia in the Boston area… no matter how much global coverage and saturation they think their readers have received from the International pres.

    It is only through the right decisions and actions of those making them in media hierarchies that we can hope to dispel ignorance of the average reader and counter the senseless violence and prejudice that many think is present all over and even today right here in our lovely city – Boston

    We are proud of our heritage and hold dear the philosophies that guide the free nations of India and US who will not be cowed by cowardly misguided terrorists!

  4. lovely account of this moment…

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