Sunday, June 8, 2008

Mel's Show & Tell: Remembering more than my baby today...

The park on the Toronto waterfront where our pregnancy loss support group's annual picnic & memorial butterfly release was held today is also the home of a new memorial, unveiled last year, honouring the victims of Air India Flight #182. The memorial was still under construction at last year's picnic, and was unveiled later that month by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The story of Flight 182 is well known in Canada, but may be less familiar to Americans. On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight #182 left Vancouver, then Montreal, en route to London and then New Delhi. A terrorist bomb, planted in Vancouver by Sikh extremists, exploded as the plane flew over the Irish Sea, killing all 329 people on board, including 136 children. Canada's Prime Minister at the time, Brian Mulroney, called Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India to express his condolences. Perhaps Gandhi should have been the one calling Mulroney: the vast majority (280) of the 329 people on board were Canadian citizens (albeit many of them with roots in India). It has been said that if the people aboard had had fair skins, public perception & reaction would have been quite different, and the struggle to bring the perpetrators to justice would not have dragged on for more than 20 years.

According to Wikipedia, until September 11, 2001, the Air India bombing was the single deadliest terrorist attack involving aircraft. It remains the largest mass murder in Canadian history.

Dh & I knew one of the victims of Air India Flight 182. Rahul was from a town in northern Manitoba, my home province. He lived on the same residence floor as dh during the post-graduate year (1981-82) dh spent at the University of Manitoba (the year he met me!). Theirs was an all-guys floor in a co-ed residence; I lived in the girls' dorm next door, & our two floors frequently partied together. He & dh also shared a class. Dh went to grad school elsewhere next year while I finished my BA degree. Both Rahul & I continued to live in residence, & I would see him in the dining hall and at residence events. I remember him introducing me to his younger sister, who also lived in residence.

I was living with my parents & getting ready for my wedding on July 6, 1985, when the Air India tragedy occurred. I was shocked when the TV announcer said that there were two Manitobans on board, and then read Rahul's name. At first, I thought there must be some mistake; Rahul's last name was not uncommon among South Asians. But it was true. We had lost touch since leaving school, but it hadn't been that long ago that I had last seen him, and having someone I knew become the victim of a terrorist act, dying so tragically at such a young age, seemed unbelievable, especially in those pre-9/11 days. Every now & then, looking through the photo albums from my university days, I will pause on the photos of Rahul, smiling and happy. He was 23 years old.

Before we headed home today from this year's picnic, dh & I hiked over to have a look at the memorial. Like the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, D.C. (albeit on a much smaller scale), the memorial includes the names of all the victims engraved in black granite. Rahul's wasn't very hard to find -- it's the very first one on the list. We both traced the letters of his name & (not for the first time today) thought about the fragility of life, the strange directions it can lead us in and all the "what ifs."

Director Sturla Gunnarson has made a documentary about Flight 182 that premiered at a documentary film festival in Toronto this spring, and will be shown on CBC television on June 22, 23 years after the plane went down.
To see what other bloggers had to show & tell today, hop over to Mel's Show & Tell.


  1. Thank you for sharing that story. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know anything about that flight, but I'm still sorry for the loss of your friend, even if you had lost touch. Tragedy like that isn't something that we can ever forget.

  2. I am sorry that you lost a friend on that flight. I was not aware of that terrorist attack. Thank you for sharing it. Beautiful memorial.

  3. I do remember this - and the Lockerbie plane (Pan Am 103?) just a couple years later. In 85 I was 17 and a junior in HS. This incident was a scary picture of the world I was going to be "inheriting" as I came into adulthood. I could accept that accidents happen. This, on purpose, was a terrifying prospect to me. I remember thinking incredulously "People blow up airplanes?"

    That's neat about the memorial. I am sorry about your friend.

  4. Thanks for the education ... I really didn't know anything about this tragedy. My DH lost several friends on 9/11 ... you never quite get over the shock of a life ended so abruptly.

  5. WoW that is a great picture and I got an education. Thank you for sharing that

  6. Here via Mel's Show and Tell.

    I feel like I'm intruding on something so personal, but I wanted to thank you for continuing to remember and treating your story and their story with such respect.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. I think it's important to remember.

    Here via NCLM

  8. What a touching story. I didn't know about this tragedy, but will certianly read up on it. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I don't remember this tragedy either and I am surprised so many others didn't as well. Thanks for sharing and for treating the memory with such respect.

  10. Popping by from Mel's Show and Tell.

    Thank you for sharing your story about your wonderful friend and letting others know about that awful day.

    I am so sorry for your loss.

  11. I guess I'm an uneducated American, b/c I didn't know anything about this. I was pretty young...but you usually hear about major events like this even if you were too young when they happened...Thank you for sharing the story and educating us.

  12. Wow. I don't remember this at all. I knew someone peripherally (boyfriend of a friend; guy I had played in orchestras with) who died on the Northwest plane crash in the summer of '87. Not terrorists, just a wreck. It's odd that those earlier disasters just kinda get glossed over now.

    It's a beautiful memorial -- thank you for sharing this and Rahul's story with us.