MADISON (WKOW) -- Multiple attacks began rocking Mumbia, India midday Wednesday, Central US time. Shortly after, UW oncology professor Dr. Soren Bentzen received a voicemail from his wife, asking him to think twice before catching a plane for a conference of the Association of Radiation Oncologists of India.
Bentzen was on a layover in Dubai at the time. "I had to make up my mind whether I would take the first plane home, or whether I would actually continue there," said Bentzen on Wednesday, now back in Madison.
Bentzen decided to still go. "I said I don't think we can let the terrorists change our lives. I don't think we can let them decide what we do or don't do."
The attacks did affect his stay, however. As the luxury Taj Mahal hotel burned, with terrorists killing tourists, many of the guests there fled to Bentzen's own hotel, the Four Seasons. The international media hoarded there as well. "We had all the crews from BBC and CNN staying."
Another UW professor whose decision, in hindsight, seemed prescient is Dr. Bhudatt Paliwal, the director of Radiation Oncology Physics. "We had stayed before in that hotel," Paliwal said, describing the Taj, where he considered booking a room for his own visit to deliver the keynote address to the International Conference on Medical Physics.
Instead, Paliwal decided to stay at a highly fortified guest house near his own conference at the site of India's atomic energy agency, where his conference was located. It was nearly 15 miles from the attacks and considerably safer. "If you wanted to go off on your own, that's where the uncertainty came in, and the lack of confidence," he added.
Both men said they felt relatively safe. Bentzen and Paliwal said they traveled little except back and forth by escort to their conferences. They described streets that would be often be deserted, and conferences that others skipped. "I respected people who decided not to go to the meeting," said Bentzen. They said at one meeting, only 400 out of a registered 1,000 people actually attended.
To say the least, it was an unusual setting to take away awards in the process. Paliwal received one for his role as keynote speaker. Bentzen received an honorary award for lifetime achievement.
"Of course, receiving the award was supposed to be a celebration, and it was, but on a sad and challenging background," Bentzen said.
Both left with a firmer appreciation of democracy and the Indian people who suffered through this latest series of terrorism.
"Whenever democracy is attacked, I think the answer is more democracy, more collaboration, more friendship," Bentzen said. "Hopefully people will contine going there."
At last count, 172 people died in last week's attacks in Mumbai. Paliwal said he fears that not all of the 20 known attackers have been accounted for. He also believes that the terrorists will have sympathizers, which will keep the threat of future attacks a real possibility.