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.