Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Taj Palace… Random thoughts after a visit

I visited the Taj Palace yesterday night… Innocent little me thought it would be desolate at midnight but it was full of likeminded gawking Bombayites being herded thru the security cordon to catch a glimpse of beautiful building we all love so.
There were scores of people lighting protest candles. Post Rang de Basanti, lighting candles has practically assumed the proportions of a pastime. I don’t want to belittle the motives of people who do that; I’m sure they feel every bit as angry and horrified about what we have had to undergo. But by lighting candles and writing blogs for that matter, we are doing little more than giving vent to our anger into the path of least resistance, to no end at all. The net effect is nothing more than what is achieved by our politicians condemning the attack and forgetting about it in a week. How can we channelize our feelings in something more productive manner? I grope for answers and find none…
Overhearing people commenting on the attack around me, practically everyone, old and young, Hindu and Muslim, is discussing the fact that something like this attack will happen again soon. I mean with the political will and intelligence network we seem blessed with, it is hard to logically disagree. But by being so defeatist are we not getting into a vicious circle of despondency and self- fulfilling prophecies?
On a more happy note, repairs are on in full swing. To hand it out to Jamshedji Tata, he has constructed a fortress; the external façade hardly seems affected. Internally, I am sure it is a very different matter but the place is a hive of activity. I look forward to being there, whenever.

Paki Two Face

Pakistan has always been a country whose left hand doesn’t know what its right hand does. The Prime Minister Mr. Nawaz Sharif didn’t know his general was invading India. Its last two governments have no clue what happens in the North West Frontier Province…and so on. Or atleast so they would have us believe.

In the latest instance the Pakistani Foreign minister publicly proclaimed that, we as in Pakistan & India are twin victims of terrorism and they will do anything repeat anything to assist the Indian Government in investigating these horrendous attacks. Even so, when the PM asks for the DG of ISI to come over it was a surprise to hear them agree; but not for long

Very clearly now some junior official will be sent, he will take notes, he will not promise anything except to get back after consulting his bosses, which will never happen. If we are stupid enough to share any information steps will be taken to make sure no further evidence is left in Pakistan. Or perhaps even will not come to pass. Perhaps direct PM to PM requests are a breach of protocol and they should send an official request at secretarial level presumably in triplicate too…which can then be deliberated upon.

Can we even consider co-operation with this country after it has spurned a direct request from the highest office of our country? If they have nothing to hide, why refuse co-operation.

Why should India suffer if Pakistan cannot control its own elements - assuming they want to in the first place? Is it our problem Pakistan is a functional anarchy where elected leaders are a poor third in the pecking order after army chiefs and intelligence chiefs? There comes a time to say enough is enough. If we cannot act after the most brazen attack on our national fabric, we will never do so ever.

Pakistan is supposed to mean "the land of the pure". Perhaps its time for a change of name…

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Mumbai Terror Attacks - Views from Home

There is a scene in Harry Potter & The chamber of Secrets, where Harry & Ron are going to the Forbidden Forest to follow the spiders as per Hargid’s cryptic instructions. Ron, terrified of spiders keeps saying ,”Lets’ go back” only to be told not to panic. A few minutes later when man-eating spiders surround them with seemingly no hope of escape, Ron again asks “Do we panic now??”

That is the question a number of Mumbaikars will be asking themselves today. What we have seen over the last night is a series of terrifying, mind numbing almost inexplicably surreal attacks on the way we live our daily lives. Suureal because if a day ago if we had been told that the Taj & the Oberoi would be witnessing 14 hour hostage dramas, if we had been told that there would be public shootouts at CST, Chowpatty, Metro, Cama Hospital all at the SAME TIME, what would we have said? Would we have believed it? These are places we visit daily, I was less than half a kilometer from the Oberoi day before, there has been shooting right outside my office in Crawford Market, I cross Metro on my way to work daily. That there can be such a audacious orchestrated attack on all these places defies all belief and comprehension.

Everything has happened so suddenly that it is difficult to get any real hold on events or my feelings about them. When we first saw this on TV at around 10:30 with the attack on Café Leopold and apparently some shooting outside VT station the media response was typically confused and speculative veering between gang wars and terrorist attacks. The locations kept changing, reporting seemed hyperbolical “khoon se latpath laashen bikhri hui hain (there are bloodied bodies all around) and India’s 9/11 headlines” repeated 20 times for the same image. My initial reaction was that it was an isolated attack being blown out of proportion. Then as we watched more, events rose in scale to match the hype. We heard the explosion at the Taj the moment it happened, saw the wisps of smoke at it’s dome build up into a conflagration, saw a live video of terrorists driving down Metro in a stolen car shooting people as they went by with one person seemingly shot down in full view of the camera, when 3 of our top ranking police officers are killed trying to storm the hotels, realization sunk that this was something different, an attack on a scale and of a method not seen before in Mumbai, (which routinely clocks a series of blasts every couple of years), or anywhere in India before.

Many questions will be asked. How can a score of people walk into hotels and railway stations with a 12 hour supply of grenades, guns and ammunition? How can nobody know about such a co-ordinated action? Who do we blame this time? Whose head should roll - our immaculately dressed Home Minister, the Maharashtra Chief Minister or the Intelligence team? Most importantly do we the people yet again shrug this off and act as if things are normal again?

There or no easy answers to these questions or in some instances any answers at all. One cannot equally protect every square foot of the city or the nation without losing some efficiency somewhere. Many Indian cities as varied in their socio - economic characteristics as Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Jaipur have suffered these attacks. The current attack seems to focus on places frequented by foreigners with the aim of maximizing international impact and mentally bracket India in the same basket as Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Already England is apparently canceling their ongoing cricket tour.) One thing seems obvious, the idea is to create a fear psychosis, make us afraid to step out of our homes, make us look over our shoulder every time we walk the roads. If we do any otf these things we will be helping the people who do this win. That will be the final victory in the battle that began yesterday. But in not panicking are we being foolhardy? I don’t have the answer, unfortunately neither it seems, do our leaders.

There is a pattern to our responses now which is so predictable that to follow it is as painful as the terrorist attack itself. We call for greater central & state intelligence co-ordination, centralized intelligence agencies, choking the funds flow for these organizations, stricter terror laws, more closed circuit cameras, political parties bashing each other and more. Perhaps we need all of these but these are long term measures which will probably not yield result soon enough to prevent more rounds of attacks. The genie is out of the bottle, and it won’t go in so soon, I am afraid. We face bleak times, but let us face them united as Indians, not as Hindus or Muslims, or Bhaiyyas or Maharastrians, or Dalits or Brahmins but as Indians. If the answers have to come, they will only come that way.