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Madhura, a former University Post reporter, was hidden in a cellar, only a few hundred metres from the Paris attacks. Here is her story
When someone says ‘I am in Paris’ the first images that come to mind are those of the glittering Tour Eiffel, haute couture, good food and expensive wines.
But after Friday night, the words ‘I am in Paris’ bring on images of a bloodbath.
My friends and I were eagerly anticipating the night of 13 November. We were going to dinner to celebrate a friend’s 26th birthday and Friday night was the most opportune time to begin a fun weekend. Soon after the customary French ‘bisous’, we were all engaged in lively, easy chatter when waitress came over to us and whispered something. I assumed it was an update on the status of dinner.
But it turned out that there was gunfire in a small concert hall a few hundred meters from us and we were going to be escorted to a hiding place. The staff at the restaurant were urging us to hurry into the small corridor-like courtyard behind the restaurant. Twenty-odd people crowded into the tiny courtyard as the lights were turned out and the restaurant was locked from inside.
The staff at the restaurant we were hiding out at brought us a steady supply of water, bread, cheese and wine.
People were reading out updates from the news agency and translating them to tourists and other non-French speakers. It was a situation mired with anxiety and disbelief.
“Were we going to get out of here safely? What about the hundreds trapped in Bataclan across from us? Why is this happening? And who are these shooters?”
Such were the questions we volleyed back and forth as we stood inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke from the nervous smokers around us. There was a couple, probably in a state of denial, using their camera flash to rapidly take a few selfies before joining the morose crowd.
Soon after, we were told to go to the ‘cave’ or cellar of the restaurant. The walls of the cave were lined with dozens and dozens of wine bottles. As we sat there, waiting for the terrible ordeal to finish playing out, we kept receiving updates from the local news. Comforting news such as the fact that the police had a handle on things were in sharp contrast to the ever-increasing body count.
Everytime we dine out, our families are going to fear for us. While life will slowly get back to normal, it will never be quite the same.
The taxi services plying the night, switched off their meters and offered their services free of charge. People opened up their homes to strangers in need of shelter. The staff at the restaurant we were hiding out at brought us a steady supply of water, bread, cheese and wine. As always, unimaginable cruelty was met with uncharacteristic kindness as the citizens of Paris came together to protect their own.
Now the question lingers, Why did this happen?
Mumbai 2008, Copenhagen 2015, Paris 2015, All are incidents that to me have hit close to home. Unfortunately, the list of such examples is never-ending. We were lucky last night. We came back home. There were many who didn’t.
This morning, the streets in Paris are empty and uncannily silent. After last night, each time we enter a theatre, we are going to be on edge. Everytime we dine out, our families are going to fear for us. While life will slowly get back to normal, it will never be quite the same.
The world is at loggerheads over trivialities like religion and politics. Last night, the price we have paid was too high.
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