19/11/2015 9:45 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

The Hashtag That Shone The Light Of Humanity In Paris's Darkest Hour

Two men paint a mural reads: "Pray for Paris" in tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks, in Paris, Saturday Nov. 14, 2015. French President Francois Hollande vowed to attack Islamic State without mercy as the jihadist group admitted responsibility Saturday for orchestrating the deadliest attacks inflicted on France since World War II. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

On Friday, I woke up to a friend's call checking up on me and my family at 2am. I was instantly reminded of what my parents would say back in the day: "It is never good news when the phone rings in the middle of the night."

Their intuition wasn't off the mark. A series of events in Paris, strongly reminiscent of the Mumbai attacks in 2008, has left everyone traumatised. "A year that started with the Charlie Hebdo tragedy ends with a new, even more dramatic onslaught," is how The Guardian is describing it, making us wonder if Hebdo was indeed a rehearsal for the things to come.

My husband and I sat through the night discussing the vulnerabilities of liberal countries like France, and the impact this incident would have on immigrants. For obvious reasons, neither of us could sleep. It is a strange feeling to realise that it could easily have been us instead of them, if it was a different day, a different time. As we scoured the internet for scraps of updates, thinking of the families whose lives would change forever, and looking for any way that we could help, the hashtag #PorteOuverte popped up on our feeds.

Parisians used this hashtag, which means "open door", to offer their homes as shelter to those who needed a safe place to sleep. Due to the attacks, certain subway lines were disrupted, and people were stranded at different pockets of the city, unable to get back home. Taxis in the city put their meters down for the night and plied for free. Medical staff turned up to volunteer help, while the city administration and police tried take control of the situation on the ground. Then there was the rest of the city, coming together to offer something more powerful than a prayer -- the comfort of their homes.

For someone brought up on a healthy dose of "don't trust strangers", and "be careful whom you invite to your homes" (coupled with horror stories of what happens when such advice is not heeded), this hashtag is as much a lesson to the contrary, as it is an impetus for us to act.

#PorteOuverte is the compassion and kindness of strangers at a time when it is needed the most. #PorteOuverte is an entire city, and its people, opening up its doors for people when there will soon be lobbying against immigrants and refugees and a specific religion, in response to this attack of terror. #PorteOuverte is a reassurance that out in the world that is so full of madness that people are killing each other for no reason at all, there are still others who are there to lend a helping hand, and a place of comfort. And above all, #PorteOuverte was also the one simple definitive act of help all of us in the city could offer proactively before posting our thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.

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