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They will not destroy Bombay!!!

South Bombay occupies a special place in the psyche of Bombay (I was born in Bombay, not Mumbai, and Bombay is where my most cherished memories lie). If Bombay is the city of dreams then South Bombay is where the creators of those dreams used to live. South Bombay is familiar to each and every person in this sub continent who has ever watched Hindi cinema. The iconic shoreline of the Queens’ Necklace with Malabar Hills in the background has been used as a backdrop in innumerable Hindi films. This is where prince and pauper come to partake of an experience called Bombay at it most lively. Lovers sit, with their arms around each other or their heads buried in laps and bosoms, on the parapet on Marine Drive facing the sea, symbolically turning their backs on a city that does not, cannot, give them the space to express their feelings for each other. So they expressed it in the open. Not that anyone minded. In Bombay you could walk naked on the streets and no one would give a second glance. It’s that kind of a city.

On November 26 that changed, perhaps forever. On that day terrorists came and ripped the heart out of Bombay. They killed indiscriminately, wantonly, without mercy or compassion. Once again, my beloved city was trampled upon, abused and ill-treated. This time the targets were the landmarks of Bombay, especially Taj Mahal hotel and Victoria Terminus.

My old office, Exress Towers lies just behind the Oberoi-Trident Hotel.

Leopold’s café, which was sprayed with bullets, serves the best beef steak in town. I’ve been there so often with friends, sat on the same tables that were spattered with blood now.

Gokul bar (the cheapest bar in Colaba), adjacent to Bade Miyan hotel is where 8 kg of RDX was recovered from. I’ve eaten so many times at Bade Miyan after a binge with friends at Gokul.

Boarded so many trains at Victoria Terminus (now CST).

Seen so many films at Metro theatre, where Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Kamte were gunned down for the audacity of taking on AK 47s with service revolvers.

An 80 year old family friend lives right next to Nariman House, where the terrorists held hostages. Amazingly, she went for a walk with bullets flying all around. She wanted to see what the commotion was all about!

Been inside the Taj hotel many times…

The last one is especially poignant. Why do they target hotels? The same thing happened in Islamabad when the Marriot Hotel was blown up by a suicide bomber. I called up a dear friend in Pakistan that evening. He answered the phone with a weary hello. He sounded tired and depressed. He explained that he had been inside the Marriot many times and there were no words to describe the sense of loss he felt. My phone call cheered him up, if only to reassure him that his friends were with him.

He called me up the day the Mumbai terrorist struck. This time my voice was tinged with sadness. He provided the succor while I listened. We both discussed the futility of violence and the nihilism of terrorism, just like we had in an earlier phone conversation. The only difference was that this time I was listening while he talked.

Rage, frustration, sadness, melanholy, helplessness, anger…

This is what I feel. But they will not destroy Bombay or Mumbai. They will not be allowed to succeed. We will stand united. For ultimately, blind hatred is self defeating.

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Mumbai

The guns have finally fallen silent. The staccato bursts of gunfire have died down. The intermittent explosions have stopped. The pigeons which flew away after every explosion have settled down. But something does not feel right. This was not like one of those bomb blasts we have been seeing with such regularity in India over the past few years. The blasts, even though extremely tragic, had a neat closure to them. But this siege was not neat. It was brutal, ugly, bloody and drawn out. To think that a dozen terrorists made the city, the country, nay even the world stand still speaks volumes both of their meticulous planning as well as of the utter failure of our security apparatus.

I’ve never liked Mumbai as a city. I’ve never lived there but while I was in college I visited it every year for four years. And every time I came away irritated by its insane (to me) rush to get somewhere, its ugly contrasts, mixed with a little envy too perhaps that Mumbai was so much more cosmopolitan than Hyderabad. I’ve always thought people made a lot of unnecessary fuss about Mumbai, its so called spirit, character and every other clichéd adjective you can think of. But this time, unlike the many tragic events before, my heart went out to Mumbai and its people. As I followed the breathless TV reporters fall over themselves to bring the rest of the world as many live images as possible of the ‘unfolding situation’ I was filled with a curious mixture of emotions. There was sadness at the needless and immense loss of life. There was multi-directional rage too, at the politicians who seem to mumble the same platitudes every time something like this happens but are soon back to their ways, of dividing this beautifully complex country to suit their narrow needs.

There was rage too at the terrorists, a helpless and hopeless sort of rage mixed with some despair. I’ve tried but I still cannot understand how someone of roughly my age can take a machine gun, walk into a hotel, into a railway station and start shooting indiscriminately. How can he look into the eyes of a woman trying to go home after visiting her relatives and shoot her in the throat? How can he separate people based on their nationality and gun them down? Try as I might I just cannot comprehend this inhumanity, this utter, deep dark hate that someone has inculcated in him. After all, he was not born with it. He was somebody’s son. He must have experienced some love. How do you go from being a human being to someone who does not blink twice before pressing the trigger and pumping bullets into fellow human beings, irrespective of whether that human being is an old man, a woman or a child? This hatred is beyond me.

And that fills me with a certain hopelessness. How do you guard against such unfathomable hatred? How do you tackle it? Will a more proactive intelligence help? Will upgrading our archaic police force into something more modern and efficient help? Perhaps those measures will help in the short term. But in the long run we have to reach out to the source of such hatred and wipe it out. Not with guns or smart bombs as so many have now begun to advocate, the ‘Israeli way’ they call it. For that will only lead to a never ending cycle of violence. But by understanding the roots of such terror and turning people away from this futile murderous orgy; through education, through alleviation of poverty, through better job prospects and through respect. For nothing blunts hatred more than happiness and peace.

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