Dec 3, 2008

Let this not pass...

Bombay witnessed yet another terror attack last week. For a city that has had over 15 terror attacks in the last 15 years it may seem like a matter of fact. But this time things are different. Let this not pass...

Terror never had a face before. Never before has Bombay witnessed this kind of 'on-the-face', 'live', 'real time' terror!!! This time things are different. Let this not pass...

This time the common man is shaken, anguished and ready to revolt against terror and its perpetrators. This time things are different. Let this not pass...

The 1993 serial bomb blasts in Bombay triggered Bombay's tryst with brutal terrorism. From then on Bombay's terror graph has only progressed (???!!!) diagonally upwards!!! The last one week has been traumatizing. For those who lost their lives - victims of terror. For those who lost their lives trying to save a few other lives - our saviors, true martyrs. For those who mourn the deaths of their near and dear ones - a grief that cannot be consoled no matter how hard we try. For those of us who were miles away from the epicenter of terror - helplessly glued to our TV sets for 4 whole days!!!

I am overwhelmed by this latest act of terror in the name of God and religion. I am lost for words to translate the millions of thoughts and questions that are zipping across my mind like a rollercoaster. This terror strike in Bombay (my nth attempt to show extreme contempt, disgust and zero respect levels for sick politicians who are nothing but opportunists indulging in selfless self-growth and silly meaningless acts like creating regional differences and renaming by-lanes, roads, airports and cities among other things!!!) has scarred me just as it has scarred every one of us who has a conscience left.

I have been meaning to write out what I feel about all that has happened and all that is happening as an aftermath of the terror strike. But with each passing day there are so many stories that I come across - stories about the acts of bravery of our commandoes and policemen, stories about the selfless spirit personified by the hotel staff at the Taj and Oberoi who lived up to the spirit of 'Customer Service Comes First' even as they knew it could mean their end, stories about power and attention hungry politicians who cannot resist seeing an opportunity even in something as gory an incident as this!!! These stories have only tangled my thoughts further.

Bombay witnessed terror in its cruelest form at over 10 places on the otherwise usual Wednesday night on the 26th of November 2008. The terrorists had an agenda. They had a plan that was worked out almost to perfection. Their choice of targets, planned distractions and months of training and planning - all culminated into Bombay's most brutal and fatal 60 hours.

Colaba Causeway is Bombay's favourite among those who love to shop, bargain or simply take a stroll. The numerous vendors who dot the Causeway have loads of stuff on display for everyone who drops by - locals and tourists alike. I have spent so many hours shopping along the Colaba Causeway.

Leopold's Cafe always attracted a glance - that many times ended up as a stare in awe. The Cafe had an aura about itself - even for someone like me who experienced it without ever stepping in. I could not miss the ambience that the dim orange lights created, the 'always packed to the brim' look, the variety of foreigners and their constant chatter as they wined and dined. This image of Leopold's would have stayed that way forever but for the terror it witnessed last week.

I have read a lot of articles about the bloodshed at Leopold's - about how almost everyone in the Cafe were killed, about couple of survivors who lay down in the pools of blood amidst the dead for as long as 45 minutes pretending to be dead till help came by, about how a waiter who worked at Leopold's for over 20 years got killed and also about how his brother (who also worked for a long time at the joint) managed to escape only to hear this when he made a numerous attempts to reach his dead brother - 'I took the phone out of this dead body's pocket, who is speaking?'!!!

Leopold's was back to business after 4 days of the incident. I wonder if they can somehow arrange for a fine dining experience for the captive terrorist right there at Leopold's tonight. It will be a slap on his face and on the face of the many spineless creatures behind this and every other act of terror!!!

Victoria Terminus - affectionately known as VT, forcefully known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or CST (with no offence meant to the Great Maratha warrior - my childhood History book hero!!!) was the next on their massacre agenda. If local trains are Bombay's lifeline, VT is its heart. Lakhs of Bombayites cross paths at VT every day. Lakhs of people from the rest of India enter Bombay at Victoria Terminus. What a perfectly chosen spot to spread panic, take lives and leave the blood stains forever!!! Over 50 people lost their lives in an instant... innocent people who were heading back home after a long day at work... innocent people who were waiting to board trains back to their home-towns. A lot more lives could have been taken. We must spare a moment to appreciate and thank the presence of mind displayed by the announcer at VT station and his team who continuously relayed messages for 25 minutes cautioning the many passengers who were alighting at VT and those who were on the premises to run for safety through specific exits or stay put in the trains. They continued making the announcements even after the terrorists shot at their office. This time things are different. I urge brave men like these to let this not pass!!!

Another target was the Nariman House - a building in one of the packed by-lanes of Colaba. This building housed a Jewish Synagogue and attracted a lot of Israeli visitors. It took our commandoes two whole days to put an end to the battle at Nariman House. I am not qualified to comment on the logistics of the commando operations. But I also appreciate the delay and slow process keeping in mind the fact that our commandoes need to think twice about the hostages, the neighbouring buildings and the people around. This makes it a lot more difficult when compared to the fidayeen mentality of the terrorists. Five people including the young Rabbi and his wife were taken hostage and killed later. Their 2-year old son Moshe, who was rescued, is an orphan now!!

With the stage set, panic and chaos at its highest and a sense of achievement the killers took the Taj and Oberoi hotels under their siege. The Taj was where they had set up their control room. It reflects so poorly of our security system to realize that four of the terrorists were living in the Taj for four whole days prior to the incident, stocking themselves with arms, ammunition, strategies to kill and dry fruits to live on so that they could kill for longer!!! All of this went on unnoticed. How??? Is this a reflection of how weak we are or is it just that they're simply many steps ahead!!!

Over a hundred people were killed at the Taj and Oberoi. The toll includes a large number of foreigners as well. This was part of the agenda too - target foreign nationals to create international panic!!! My blood boils when I imagine how the vicious minds behind all this would be celebrating their success. Nine of their men may have been killed, but does that even matter to them!!!

We lost close to 15 policemen - including brave men like Karkare, Salaskar and Kamte. Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan of the NSG and another commando also met their end while fighting the terrorists. Some of the brave men are badly injured. Here is something I read about what an injured NSG commando said even while he was recovering at the hospital...

"There were only two things that crossed my mind that day. Marna ya maarna (kill or die)," he says without batting an eyelid. "When you take a vow to protect the pride of Bharat Mata (Mother India), death doesn't scare you," he says even as the hospital staff brings in a stretcher to move him to another room.

High time we (more importantly our so-called leaders) learn from brave men like these!!! The spirit to serve the nation was not meant to be limited only to our brave jawans!!!

After every disaster, natural calamity or terrorist attack is over India has always witnessed a dirty blame game. Loads of controversies and finger pointing began right after the commandoes won the battle and returned to New Delhi. Politicians who had locked themselves up for four days began surfacing once the coast was clear. It is really sad to see that we are being led by a bunch of people who do not even have the guts to own up responsibility, accept their failures and look at options that would never allow something like this to repeat. Instead they are busy passing the buck to make sure they get themselves a clean chit!!!

Maharashtra's Home Minister R.R. Patil had the audacity to refer to this incident as a small one that happens once in a while in big cities like Bombay. Gopinath Munde was at the Nariman House area immediately after the commandoes had done their job. For what??? I only wish he got beaten up that night!!!

Where were the Thackerays when their 'Mumbai' was burning??? Where were the Thackerays when the Marathi manoos was weeping to see his city being torn apart? Where were the self-proclaimed saviors - the Sena and MNS activists - when the city witnessed its darkest night??? Are our saviors and protectors only potent enough to burn effigies, indulge in rail-rokos, ransack shops that want to spread the message of love on Valentine’ Day and burn up taxis run by non-Marathis!!! It is time the real people of Maharashtra wake up... our saviors need help!!!

Politicians stink across states. It will be unfair to only point fingers at the Thackerays and their hooligans. I fall short of expletives to react to the disgusting and cheap remarks made by Kerala's Chief Minister. 'But for the slain Major, not even a dog will go there' - is what the CM said only because Major Unnikrishnan's father expressed his anger and grief against politicians. I believe that the distraught father's decision to not let the politician inside his home and his fury only mirrors what the rest of us feel. It is ok to be offended and hurt but the CM passing a remark as cheap as that only shows how much he even meant to offer his condolences.

Another politician who deserves a severe bashing is BJP's Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi who commented on Bombayites raising a voice against his clan by saying that 'lipstick and powder-coated women' were busy abusing politicians on TV. So what Mr. Naqvi?? What makes you more insecure - the fact that the masses are raising a voice against you and the rest of you or the fact that women have an option to adorn themselves with lipstick and powder??? Cheap and irrelevant remarks like these in the midst of a tense situation - shameful!!!

The police department is the first one to tackle any act of violence anywhere. It is clear that our police departments are not at all equipped to deal with the kind of terrorists we have today. Why does this inadequacy go unnoticed and unchecked? How difficult is it to have someone audit what is available and what is lacking in terms of skills, weapons, ammunition, protective wear etc.

I read somewhere that Vijay Salaskar - the encounter specialist who died last Thursday - has never worn a bullet proof jacket in all his successful encounter shootings in the past. This time too he was not wearing one. This is because bullet proof jackets available with the police serve no purpose. He had apparently raised this matter with authorities as well as in the courts. But nothing happened. Why can’t we have an external, non-government agency to look into such complaints and issues? Is it against a democracy in any way? Don't we as a tax paying people have the right to audit and ensure that our taxes are being utilized in the right way?

A lot of people say if you're not happy with politics, join politics and set things right. Why should that be the only solution? Not everyone can lead anyway... but that does not mean he/ she cannot raise a voice against the mess our politicians have created. When India can produce world class professionals in every other field why have we failed to produce honest men and women who can lead our nation from the front!!!

Asking the Patils at the Centre and the State to step down will make no difference. They will only be replaced by someone equally corrupt, if not more. It's not just the ruling party to be blamed. A dignified Opposition party would be one that steps forward to work hand in hand with the Ruling party to deal with this national catastrophe. But here we have leaders from the Opposition giving more priority to their election campaigns and distributing pamphlets with chronicles of the ongoing incident and how the Congress has failed!!! It is not just a failure for the Congress or the BJP. We have all failed miserably as a democracy. It hurt when I heard someone say that 'we are unfortunately a democracy'. But somehow that is the sad truth!!!

Every cloud has a silver lining. This cloud that had overcast Bombay was one real dark cloud. The silver lining appears to be the reactions coming in from the non-political class of our society. We need something as massive as a Civilian Revolution to get ourselves out of where we are. Terrorism is a global disease. We have a lot more ailments within our country to set right before taking on something as deadly as terrorism. We need to start from the basics.

We must also not let ourselves get carried away by emotions. The war against terrorism should not let us create divisions based on religion. This is not a Hindu-Muslim war. This is not an India-Pakistan war. We are all victims of terror. The strong statements made by the Maulanas in Bombay that they would not allow the bodies of the killed terrorists to be buried in their crematoriums speak volumes.

I am glad to have been born and brought up in Bombay. I have cribbed endlessly about how much I miss Bombay ever since I have moved out of it. I am proud to see my fellow Bombayites raise a voice this time. I am hurt to see the 'Spirit of Bombay' being criticized as nothing but a compulsion of life. I only pray that these reactions and stimuli last long enough to clean us up of all the mess. I only hope that what has begun as youth rallies against terror, candle-light movements, mass outrage on the blogosphere, email and SMS leads to something much bigger and more concrete. This time things are different. Let us get ourselves to let this not pass...

Lastly, what kind of God do these terrorists have? What kind of faith do they follow? What kind of God would be pleased to see innocent lives been taken... brutally!!! I have heard from learned men and women that there is only one God, that God is above all other and that he somehow sets right the wrong!!! Why is God silent over all that has been happening on the terror front then??? I am not ruling out our failures and responsibilities as a people. But if there is a God above are these unfair imbalances not visible to him??? The people of Bombay and the rest of the world who care have risen above this crisis to try and put an end to terrorism... somehow!!! This time things are different. Help us God... Let this not pass!!!


Arul Jothi A December 3, 2008 at 4:51 PM  

Excellent thinking Priya.....
But what will GOD do when people are responsible for such things ?

priya December 3, 2008 at 5:07 PM  

Thanks Arul.

You're right... we're responsible as a people. But like we say that natural calamities is Nature's way to maintain life's balance... why can't something supernatural happen on this front too.

May be too far-fetched. But at the moment all I'm asking of God is the strength we need to make sure this does NOT pass on like any of the earlier tragedies we've had.

Prasita December 3, 2008 at 6:50 PM  

He Pri...
you have said it all sure all of us mumbaikar or non mumbaikar share the same emotion

priya December 4, 2008 at 4:18 PM  

Hey Prasi,

Thanks for the comment.

You're right about how we share the same emotions.

In search of ... December 4, 2008 at 7:22 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vikram,  December 4, 2008 at 7:24 PM  

Beyond the door
There's peace I'm sure.
And I know there'll be no more...
Tears in heaven

Abhi December 4, 2008 at 8:33 PM  

straight from the heart with lots of anger. whatever written is extremely true.

priya December 4, 2008 at 9:09 PM  

@vikram - thanx for the comment.

that was one optimistic couplet... guess lines like these will help us keep the spirit alive for longer.

@abhishek - thanx for the comment.

guess channelizing this anger in the right way is a more important challenge now... for all of us.

Jayan December 4, 2008 at 10:44 PM  

Priya, I can see true feelings of a die hard mumbaikar. You are right, it's time we THE PEOPLE wake up.

priya December 5, 2008 at 9:16 AM  

@Jayan - Thanks for the comment.

We just somehow need to make sure we remain awake long enough!!

dorai,  December 6, 2008 at 7:31 AM  

hi priya,
i feel that your poignant piece is well expressed and yes i would be the happiest if it works out the way you think it should. being in the forces, we face the brunt of political mistakes or reactions by politicians due to mass ministrations by the public. i mean that there is a deep rot in the polity of the country and it wouldnt bother them to take some vague decision as stepping up to precautionary state for the forces...which would mean that we stay at sea for long periods of time, the army is poised to move into enemy territory, the air force is on a constant vigil and all this till they receive a vaguer reply from our neighbouring a dialogue between a set of any two politicians who wouldnt have a clue as to where to begin a bilateral diatribe!! this is what happened in OP PARAKRAM after the parliament attack.
basically, i am trying to tell that if there is genuine outrage, presently there is no channel to shape that outrage into a cognisable weapon of change...what is it that the country needs...list it it safety from natural and terrorist disasters, be it an age and literacy limit in the polity, be it better infrastructure for the para military forces like in police etc., go ahead and name a list...i was there for the peace march in Mumbai and i felt that there was a lot of energy around but no direction...that simply defeats the purpose.
so if your blog has a reading base....ask for a list...that would be the list of the commoner...publish that list and watch the support grow and take a tangible shape.

priya December 6, 2008 at 1:40 PM  

@dori... thanx a ton for that comment and more importantly for adding a whole new perspective to the issue we have at hand.

as civilians we probably do not understand ALL the nonsense that goes on in the country's polity. i completely understand that u and the rest of the forces need to deal more with the apathetic adminstration and politicians than the rest of us.

i will try to work out a list with contributions from my friends too... about wot we need to do next.

we'll think that over and try to work out how best we can get things moving.

this time things are different... it just won't pass!!!

Kumar,  December 7, 2008 at 1:37 PM  

Hi Priya,
Very well written by an angry and frustrated true Indian. I agree on your views on our politicians. I also feel that loss of lives of many "rich" have caught more attention than the earlier attacks in India.

priya December 7, 2008 at 7:18 PM  

@kumar - thanx for the comment

i agree with you completely on how this time is such a big issue coz more of the 'rich' have been affected. so far it was the common middle or lower middle class who bore the brunt.

but i also feel that whatever the cause for this mass outrage, we should just not get over this one by being silent.

i'm just too afraid to see one or more similar incidents to jolt us up.

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