“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” This Mark Twain quote is among the many on acceptance, peace and gratitude that a group of Mumbai Police officials received each morning for a month. The ‘peace alert’, to set the tone for their day, was part of an actionable programme by ‘peace entrepreneur’ Kia Scherr.
It was a phone call on a November 2008 afternoon that would, months later, give Kia a fresh perspective of the world and put her on course to spread the message of ‘actionable peace’ across cities.
“I was in Florida at that time, visiting my family for thanksgiving. My husband Alan, and my 13-year-old daughter Naomi were at the Oberoi hotel as part of a meditation group when I got a call that the hotel was under attack by terrorists,” she says. Friends said everyone from their group was accounted for, but Alan and Naomi were missing. They were last seen in the restaurant where some saw Alan take a shot to the head. Naomi was last seen hiding under the table. Kia immediately switched on the television, post which it was hard to switch off for the next 60 hours.
It wasn’t until the morning of Friday, November 28, 2008 that Kia got a call from the US Consulate confirming that Alan and Naomi were dead.
She recalls the first time television channels flashed the image of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist of the attacks. It was the moment she decided she had to step in and do her part in promoting peace. “As I was just staring at this young man I felt that there’s enough hate. we need to send love and compassion and we need to forgive, so that we can move on. Everything was cracked open and what I learnt in that moment is the core essence of what it means to be human — that love still exists.”
Months later, Kia wrote a letter to Kasab, who was executed in November 2012. Kasab didn’t get a chance to read the letter.
“The Mumbai terrorist attack was more like an earthquake than a crack. But, the bigger the crack, the more light gets in and that is why I am more alive than ever before. This is the light of love — love never dies,” she wrote, adding that she refuses to leave the memory of her husband and daughter lying on the floor of the Tiffin restaurant at the Oberoi hotel.
The choice to forgive, however, is still a difficult one for Kia. “It’s a choice that I continue to make as I go through the human emotion of loss, and it doesn’t go away. I’ve moved on and embraced life in completely different ways but it’s a continuous choice to forgive and that is the key to healing. the key to bringing forth something of value to the world,” says Kia, defining forgiveness as the choice not to be held hostage by that act, to not become a victim of terrorism.
The events of 2008, she says, also helped push her out of her comfort zone — a secluded life in the United States, confined by relatives and a friend circle that revolved around those who were part of the meditation group Synchronicity.
In 2009, she decided to travel the world to share her story and spread the message of peace and forgiveness, unwilling to give in to the sole aim of terrorists — “that of creating a sense of fear in the lives of victims”. She founded One Life Alliance (OLA) — a global peace initiative — with a commitment to help countries such as India rise on the global peace index, where India currently ranks 141 on a list of 163 nations. OLA works with educational institutes, government bodies and businesses, ensuring that those involved get the opportunity to reassess their objectives for the day through a daily ‘peace alert’.
“You don’t need to preach peace, you just need to practise it,” she says.