Just a regular backpack

St. Paul's Cathedral

All the news and controversy about the Zimmerman verdict got me thinking about prejudices, and reminded me of this incident.

It was early July in 2005, and we were bookending our vacation across western Europe, with stays in London. The weather was glorious and we spent our first day there watching the city win its bid for hosting the 2012 Olympics and celebrating with the crowds at Trafalgar Square.

The next day, we needed to take the Eurostar to Brussels. Wanting to save some money, we decided to use the tube to get from Marble Arch to Waterloo station, rather than taking a cab. At the station, we heard a number of announcements about delays and cancellations and I remember A remarking “A hell of lot seems to be going wrong with the tube today!”

We got to Waterloo, boarded our train and switched off our cell phones to avoid unnecessary roaming charges. And so we reached our hotel in Brussels, blissfully unaware of what was happening in London (and consequently thousands of miles away, in Mumbai and Delhi).

Until we switched on the television and saw the news. Multiple explosions on the London underground and one on a bus. Some dead, many injured.

“WHAT? We were ON the tube at that time!”

As the news of the tragedy sunk in, some sense dawned.

“Oh, we should call everyone at home and let them know we are okay”

That’s when we realized that our phones had been switched off ALL this while.

Sure enough, we received about a hundred missed call and SMS alerts as we switched our phones back on.

Thankfully we were able to calm down our extremely worried (and extremely livid) parents, and convince them that we were fine and that going forward we would ensure that we were reachable at all times.

In any case, we put the London events behind us and had a lovely vacation across Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and France and headed back to London for the last leg of our holiday.

We returned to a changed city.

Every time that we were on the tube or in a bus, I saw people giving A strange looks.

I guess in a small way I could understand… He was a young Asian male with a backpack.

But it also angered me.

‘Does my husband look like a terrorist to you?’ I wanted to shout out.

Of course I said nothing.

I would just hook my arm around his and deliberately take a map out of the backpack, simply to demonstrate that it was, in fact, just a regular traveler’s backpack.

I was probably doing the same thing on 21st July, while in other sections of the tube, a second round of bomb attacks was attempted and thankfully failed.