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Unshakable Faith: Survivors of the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks

Even after the loss of their own in the Mumbai terrorist attacks, a Virginia spiritual community continues to believe in one consciousness.

One team of terrorists strode into Mumbai's central train station, opened fire with assault rifles and lobbed grenades into crowds of commuters. "They were like angels of death," Sebastian D'Souza, a photographer with the Mumbai Mirror newspaper, who risked his life to document the assault, told reporters. "When they hit someone, they didn't even look back. They were so sure."

Another team struck Nariman House, a Jewish outreach center for the ultra-orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement where a young rabbi with dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship and his family were hosting guests.

Two terrorists paused in front of the popular tourist spot Leopold Cafe. They casually raked it with gunfire for a few moments, then tossed a live grenade inside at diners and waiters diving for cover. Then they moved on to bigger targets.

The terrorists who shot up the cafe soon joined forces with other jihadists to storm the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, the luxury hotel with an iconic wedding-cake structure where, just then, a young couple were celebrating their nuptials.

And two terrorists headed for the Oberoi hotel, an oceanfront, modern high-rise where the pilgrims from the Synchronicity group had just returned after their evening meditation session.

OASIS INVADED

Naomi was hungry. Helen, her roommate at the Oberoi, was tired. The strikingly attractive yoga teacher who, at 50, still had porcelain skin and the soft brogue of her native Ireland, longed to go straight to their room. She just wanted to drink a protein shake for dinner and collapse into bed. But she couldn't disappoint the teenager. Sweet Naomi's unbridled enthusiasm for India's exoticism so delighted Helen that the yoga teacher had even volunteered to be the chaperone when the teen had had her nose pierced the day before. Helen would do anything to please Naomi, an impulse she would remember in sorrow.

"God forgive me," Helen recalled later. "I knew Naomi loved the sushi at the Tiffin restaurant. So I suggested to her, 'Would you like some? My treat.' "

Naomi brightened. "Oh, yes, please," she said.

The cool, pristine elegance of the Oberoi offered respite from the heat and noise of Mumbai. In the soaring, open, atrium lobby of the hotel, a concierge in formal pinstripes beamed a welcome to the returning pilgrims. Polished brass and granite gleamed around them. A pianist and violinist played soothing serenades. Burning oil lamps wafted a jasmine-scented potion especially blended for the Oberoi.

The hotel's popular Tiffin restaurant was nestled in a corner of the lobby. Helen and Naomi spotted fellow Synchronicity pilgrims convened jovially at a back table near the kitchen. The duo wedged themselves into the empty banquette on one side of the table for six. They ordered cool ginger drinks, asparagus sushi and celery soup -- then waited. Service was uncharacteristically slow.

Michael Rudder, a Canadian actor then 58, cracked jokes with Nashville meditation instructor Rudrani Devi, 45, and one of her students from back home, Linda Ragsdale. Linda, then 49, an illustrator who had children of her own at home, made a special fuss over Naomi. She had been teaching Naomi to draw. Now, chatting gaily, Linda reminded Naomi that tomorrow she'd teach her how to draw a dragon. "Everyone was very exalted by the evening meditation program," Michael later recalled. "There was no need to drink wine or a martini. I was high, exalted and quite intoxicated with the bliss of being."


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