On November 26, 2008, 52-year-old Kia Scherr was in Florida, visiting her family for Thanksgiving. Her husband Alan and their 13-year-old daughter Naomi were on a special trip to Mumbai, with a meditation group called Synchronicity Foundation for Modern Spirituality.
Alan and Naomi were staying at the Oberoi Trident. Late in the afternoon, Kia got a phone call from the meditation group’s director. “Kia, turn on the TV,” she said. “There’s a terror attack in Mumbai and the Oberoi has been targeted.”
26/11/2008 was the darkest day in the history of independent India. 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic terrorist organisation based in Pakistan, carried out 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai. The attacks, which lasted for four days, killed more than 100 people and wounded over 300.
“I knew it was night-time in India and Alan and Naomi were in the Oberoi Restaurant,” Kia tells The Logical Indian. “I was shocked but I knew I had to be patient and wait for a confirmation about the situation there.”
“For about three days, all I knew was that the hotel was under attack. Then, on November 28, around 6 AM, I got a call from the US Consulate in Mumbai,” she says.
While the terrorists had stormed into the restaurant, people had dived under the chairs. The men moved from table to table, shooting at whoever they could see.
“Both Alan and Naomi had been killed, they told me,” Kia says.
Many others in the group were wounded.
“They Know Not What They Do”
“I don’t remember feeling enraged, but I was in shock and disbelief. In the aftermath of the events, as I sat in front of the TV, I saw Ajmal Kasab for the first time. The lone surviving terrorist who was captured,” says Kia.
“When I looked at Kasab, I realised he was as old as one of my sons, and I heard Jesus Christ inside my head – “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.””
Kia said those words aloud. She told her family that they must all forgive the terrorists.
“At that moment, I realised how disconnected this young man and his companions must have been from their own humanity, to have done such a thing, and I felt compassion for them. Forgiveness – it is not about letting the perpetrators free. One has to face the consequences of their actions. Forgiveness, at that point, was a spiritual choice given to me – and I said ‘yes’! Kia says.
“I decided that I did not want to respond to hate and violence with more hate. I did not want to hold on to the anger. The only way to do away with darkness is to turn on the light, and the light is the light of love. I am still alive because of the love in my heart. No bullet from any weapon can ever kill love. Love cannot die,” she adds.
The world is in complete chaos, Kia feels. Bad things happen everywhere. But in the chaos, she believes, there lies hope.
There should come a time, Kia says, when we must stop. We must realise that we cannot kill each other over a piece of land, or because of differences in opinions.
“We are human beings and we will have to find a more compassionate way to deal with our differences so that no more children or any human being would have to die,” Kia says.
“Islam Means Love”
Kia went to Mumbai is 2010. She has never felt any contempt for the city and what lay in its history, but only love for the citizens.
“Because we were a part of this spiritual organization, Synchronicity, which has a website, a lot of people from across the world got to know about us. After I came to know that Alan and Naomi had been killed, I received messages from every corner of this earth,” says Kia. “I got messages from Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, from people from all over Iran, Pakistan and India.”
“They were all messages of love. There was this one message from Iran, signed by an Arabian family, which said: ‘Islam means love. We send you our love and support. Alan and Naomi – they will live on forever’. That is when I realised that the world is made up mostly of really good people. Terrorists are just a very small percentage of them.”
“What if we could love like extremists rather than kill like extremists? The world would be such a beautiful place,” she adds.
Kia is now writing a book on the theme of choosing forgiveness, which will be released by Penguin Random House in India in 2020.
“I have forgiven Kasab. I have forgiven all the other terrorists. They were young men who got disconnected from the sacredness of life,” Kia says.
“We cannot change what has happened, and we surely cannot prevent such incidents from occurring again. But how about we try? How about we forgive and re-educate all those who are guilty, and fill the void in the world with kindness and patience? We must not give up. We may be able to minimise violence with our love, and save some lives in the process. I think we can,” she adds.
In a final message to those who have lost their loved ones to such tragedies, Kia says: “I understand your anger. It is okay to feel enraged. You must let it come out. Feeling angry is okay, but retaliating and creating a cycle of violence is not. At the end of the day, forgiveness is something you gift yourself so that you don’t have to live with hate.”
Ajmal Kasab was executed by hanging on November 21, 2012. Every year, as 26/11 nears, Kia feels vulnerable. But her will power, compassion and power of forgiveness keep her going.
“My daughter Naomi always said that she wanted to be a doctor. She wanted to be a heart surgeon and save lives. Let us all save lives,” she smiles.