Mumbai 26 11...it is not business as usual

Frankly I was quite exhausted and emotionally drained over the past few days. And I want to thank everyone who called, texted, e mailed, scribbled on walls, commented on blogs asking about us. Kainaz and I were home safe and no one close to us was caught in the tragedy that hit Mumbai. Unless you count the city of Bombay of course.

I was glued to the telly for a large part of the last few days watching the horrifying events unfold. I was dazed and in a state of shock. VT station, Leopolds, The Taj, the Oberoi, these have all been places which have made Bombay special to me. Places which have made me fall in love with the city. I have vivid memories of each of them.

I first landed at the Victoria Terminus for a summer project presentation in 1996. I fell in love with Bombay then and shifted in a year later. Kainaz and I would often walk past the VT Station on our courting days for a Bengali dinner at Hotel New Bengal. Even today I always feel happy when I see the Gothic beauty of the VT station when I head to South Bombay for work.

Leopold is where my summer project guide had treated me to a beer, where I had spent many evenings with friends when I had moved into Bombay, where I have had many Friday lunches of beef chilly and prawn fried rice and brownies with Kainaz, where we had dinner on her last day at FCB Ulka, the office where we met. Years later I felt good reading about it in the book, Shantaram.

The Taj Hotel was of course THE hotel we all aspired to. I remember each of my visits there… a lot of them were to the Sea Lounge, the old tea room by the sea. It is hard to think that the place where I was introduced to the ice cream boat and then shared it with Kainaz, where I took my mom for tea… an experience she still remembers, the place where as a junior executive, eight years back, I had shelled out Rs 1500 (30 USD today) to treat Kainaz to a chocolate buffet (a kind, elderly waiter took pity on us and allowed us to share a plate from the buffet though I had paid only for one person, but that’s Taj for you)…to think that this place, the Sea Lounge, was apparently the last refuge of the killers is painful.

The Oberoi is just opposite the Nirmal building at Nariman Point where Kainaz and I worked together when we first met. We often used to go to the cake shop there for pastries and ham and cheese sandwiches and even now I get a cake from there on her birthday. The Oberoi had a chemist where I would buy Kainaz’s favourite Lindt Chocolates, for the then pricely sum of 90 Rs (2 USD), as a peace offering if we had a tiff. I have bought her a red tee shirt from a shop called Scarlett over there which she still wears.

To see these places, which are such a big part of my life pillaged numbed me. I was truly dazed.

And then there was the human misery and pain. The deaths. The bloodshed. The injuries. The massacred families. To think that we could have been one of them is a chilling thought. These were people who had welcomed me to Bombay and made me feel at home here. Or they were people like me who had come from outside to Bombay, drawn like a firefly to the flame.

I have consciously used the word ‘Bombay’. I know there are political parties who believe that Bombay should be called Mumbai. Well, if they really care about the city, then their actions need to speak for that. And so far the silence has been deafening.

We have been let down by the most inept political leaders which we have abetted by voting for them, or worse still, by not voting. And I know that there are many of my peers who have followed the American elections by the minute but do not vote here. To start with, I haven’t voted ever since I shifted to Bombay.

Hats off to the policemen, army men, ordinary citizens, hotel staff, journalists, firemen who braved their lives to stand up to the killers. I hope that I too would someday be able to do something for this city.

And then there are the endless debates on the ‘spirit of Mumbai’. Three calamities back, this was good and much lauded. The flavour of the day now is to ridicule this term. The ‘spirit of Mumbai’ is the reality of life anywhere in the world. You need to eat to live, you need to earn to eat, you need to work to earn. People get back to work after each of the hourly blasts in Kabul and Kashmir, shops remain open after bombs exploded at Delhi, Jaipur and Guwahati, the fishermen are out after the cyclones in Bangladesh and the tsunami in Thailand and Tamil Nadu. That’s the truth of life. And that much more if you are a daily wage earner. So let’s face reality folks.

You want to know what Mumbai is like? It is like Sylvester Stallone in any Rocky movie. Battered in round after round. A broken nose. Blinded vision. Paralysed speech. The assault continues. Except in the movies, ‘it ain’t over till its over’. Rocky picks himself up for the umpteenth time and finally lands the sucker punch which fells Apollo Creed, Mr T, Ivan Drago and other challengers. Mumbai has the bomb blasts of 1993, the communal riots after that, the floods of 26/7, the commuter train blasts, the blasts at Ghatkopar and at the Gateway and now the carnage of 26 11.

And people are scared. Everyone stayed home on Thursday. I went to office for a short time on Friday. I asked my team mates to leave when there were rumours of more explosions. They said they were scared to leave. The cabbie who drove me to work kept muttering about how scared he was and how he didn’t want to get his work out. Fear has cut across. Even to the young… or to the poor, those who normally carry on in the face of danger.

And I have an eerie feeling that this is not the end of the fight. After all the politicians are still at their games. And there are many who act like it is business as usual. Well, it is not business as usual. And this nighmare will not end till we realise that.

Life obviously doesn’t stop. We will get back to our spread sheets and power points and our rat races. Even I have gone about my daily routine over the past few days.

But at least let’s care about the citiy. Let’s do something. And I don’t mean candle light vigils or being part of internet ‘communities against terror/ politicians, etc. Let’s not support the killers by turning against each other. And lets, for God’s sake, vote! For all those who admire Obama but who have given up on our poilticians...let's not forget Obama's message of change.

PS: I am posting this on both my food and travel blogs, though this has nothing to do with either, so that I could reach out to as many people as possible

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