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Ten terrorists carried out a series of coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai, India, lasting four days from November 26, 2008, killing over 160 people and leaving hundreds wounded. Bharat Soka Gakkai (SGI-India) member Jharna Narang was dining with her family at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel when it was attacked and placed under siege. Her immediate family members—parents and brother—were killed in the shootings, while she sustained four bullet wounds to the stomach, arms and hips.
For the next two months, 19 doctors from different disciplines worked in constant consultation with each other as Jharna fought to stay alive in the ICU. Her kidneys had failed. She was unable to move her legs because of damage to the spinal cord. There had been extensive nerve damage, blood loss and internal bleeding, and the threat of septicemia was constant. Mystically, the bullets had missed all her vital organs. She was discharged after eight months of hospitalization.
In this interview, which took place in 2015, seven years after the incident, Jharna, who is almost fully recovered and has regained the use of her legs, talks about the incident, but more so about moving on and the nature of forgiveness.
Can you tell us what happened on that day?
It happened in a split second. We were having dinner, celebrating my brother Gunjan’s 32nd birthday, at a restaurant in the Taj Hotel when we were told we needed to evacuate. We followed the staff through the kitchen and deep into the inner chambers of the premises where there were private banquet rooms. We hid there for many hours. They provided whatever they could manage, some water and crackers, tablecloths to cover ourselves. Nobody knew how serious it was. People from many parts of the Taj gathered, hiding in three or four banquet rooms.
At one point, it was declared safe to leave. We literally stepped out when the firing started again. I was shot and bleeding like a tap. My mom was under me, and she died immediately. I was bleeding all over the place, passing in and out of consciousness. At one point, I pretended to be dead. They were still shooting.
I distinctly remember thinking, “I cannot die, my work is not finished yet!” And I shouted and shouted for help.
I believe this fierce inner determination resulted in the whole universe working to save my life. I was among the first few to be rescued and taken to the hospital. Although I had no identification and doctors could barely feel my pulse, they didn’t give up. (My main surgeon recounted later that he didn’t know what had made him take a chance on me, there were so many people coming in.) I remember giving them my name in the hospital, but they didn’t get it right. I then felt someone removing my earrings and knew they were going to operate immediately.
And the rest of your family?
My sister-in-law and her parents escaped safely. They found my brother’s and parents’ bodies at various morgues, but I was nowhere to be found. Victims had been taken to different hospitals, and the emergency crew had gotten my name wrong. Desperately looking for my whereabouts, my relatives even put it on the news—the headlines read, “Jharna where are you?” They finally found me in Bombay Hospital.
When I regained consciousness more than a month had passed, but to me it felt like yesterday or just a few days ago. I opened my eyes and knew something had happened, but I didn’t quite know what. That’s when I was told that my parents and brother had not made it.
It must have been really tough to come to terms with their deaths.
Initially, I wondered, “What did I do to incur such negative karma?” I was very bothered about the way my parents died. They were shot dead, literally had their lives taken away like this. I was very disturbed about it and shared my concerns with a leader in the SGI who helped me to understand that it is impossible to fathom one’s karma.
The concept of karma is not something that can be understood at a superficial level. Further, Buddhism teaches that it isn’t how long we have lived or how we die that determines the victory or failure of our lives; rather it is how we live out our lives while we are alive that matters. The leader went on to share with me that my parents and my brother did not die in vain, and this has stuck with me. Their deaths helped make the world aware of terrorism and transform the karma of the land. No one can forget 26/11. They took on the karma of the land. I truly feel that. Moreover, they died quickly and did not suffer.
Gradually, I have come to feel an inner certainty that my parents and brother are happy wherever they are. Nichiren Buddhism teaches us that the benefits of our efforts to advance peace through our Buddhist practice extend to countless generations of our family. I believe that the benefits of all the causes I create in my Buddhist practice will reach my parents and brother, and that’s very reassuring! I also believe what Nichiren promises in his writings—that I will be born together with them again. In the meantime, I must do my life’s work! I want to use my life as an example to motivate the world to concrete action. So then there is nothing to complain about.
Do you harbor any feelings of blame or resentment toward the terrorists?
related article “I Am Master of My Mind”: Unleashing the Power of Transformation in Prisons by Sabra Williams, USA Sabra Williams is a Soka Gakkai member and a successful film and television actor, whose career includes credits in Mission Impossible III and recurring roles in ABC’s Injustice and CBS’s Three Rivers. After making her mark as an actress and TV presenter in the UK, Sabra moved to the US in 2002, where she created the Actors’ Gang Prison Project. Launched in 2006, the project employs highly physical theatrical techniques based on the emotive 16th-century Italian “people’s theater” culture of commedia dell’arte. The work has proved transformative for inmates of the California prison system and has significantly reduced recidivism rates. Sabra was recently honored as a Champion of Change by the White House. They were kids. They were wearing shorts, T-shirts—they were young boys, maybe 16, 17 or 18 at most. They didn’t know what they were doing. They are picked up, taken to camps and trained. Their families are probably told that their children will be taken care of. I saw how young they were. They were not born murderers. They were programmed.
Having experienced in such close proximity the insecurity of the times we live in, how do you wish to live your life moving forward?
A passage from Nichiren’s treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” comes to mind: “You must quickly reform the tenets that you hold in your heart . . . If you do so, then the threefold world will become the Buddha land, and how could a Buddha land ever decline?”
It’s about the sense of urgency in doing our human revolution. Not everyone can be part of the UN or go out there and do relief activities. What we can all do is win over our negative tendencies and work toward treasuring the person in front of us.
The resentment I feel in my heart, the feelings of being trapped, whatever is pulling me down—these are what I have to win over. Through the change in my heart, I know I can create that ripple effect. This is the “power of one” that SGI President Ikeda always talks about. But the thing is, I’ve got to believe in the power of my life. I’ve got to believe and activate and bring forth that power of my life. And if I can do it, I can be an example for others.
What might you share with those who have survived similar circumstances and are struggling to face the future?
I personally apply: one day at a time. One day at a time, move forward. Believe in yourself. Fight. I don’t know how, but since that day there has been this constant inner voice that says: “Okay, move forward. Take it one day at a time.” However hard, however painful, somehow I was able to believe in myself. “Yes. I will do it! I will live!” This kind of determination, this fighting spirit that I have forged through my Buddhist practice can break through all barriers.