Sunday, December 28, 2008

Police Reforms: for Their Own Sake!

Look around, there's a lot happening around your locality these days, makes you want to bury your head and say, "Oh God! We were never this way!" Petty crimes, breaking up families, increasing rapes, atrocities against minorities, etc. You have this secure cocoon in which you feel sort of safe and suddenly something breaks the complacency. When it hits you, it hits with the force of unpreparedness, with the surprise of "orkapurathu oru adi" which Malayalam saying means "A slap on the back when least expected." These are just examples, one of which was brought to me last week which I mentioned in this post. The robber entered, stole two laptops from the office, the hi-tech cameras caught him (its so sensitive, it can catch every sound, every movement, but the robber was smarter, he wore a mask), but no headway was made in the investigation. Petty robberies upset our rhythm just as terror acts spread, well, terror.

Next step, the police came, asked who they suspected and the poor office boy got called to the station and beaten up. Yes, it happened in this day and age, which makes me wonder if we are in some kind of police raj where medieval torture tactics are still employed. Then, serendipitously, I think of the policemen caught unawares with only wooden sticks in front of killing machines line the AK-47. Have we failed to modernise our law and order mechanism, is it still lagging in the days of the British where the cruel racist masters' trained dogs unleashed terror upon the people the kind I read in the "Last Mughal" and "Sea of Poppies." When will we Indians realise our constitutional right to justice and peace. After all doesn't our constitution state:

"WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a 1[SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the [unity and integrity of the Nation];"


And, what's more, it happened on Christmas Day the day that is supposed to be a day of peace and goodwill to everyone on earth. I got very upset, but was told to ignore it because it was their method of investigation. But in this day and age? What are we if we look down upon a fellow citizen of our country (the office boy who got tortured) because of his poverty and economic need and subject him to all sort of suspicion just because he happens to be poor? Don't they know about forensics, the sort of gadgetry you see in serials like 'CID' which can nail the culprit? Can't the police investigate without resorting to third degree? When things like this happen so close to you, and you see the pain in his eyes, his stoic silence, his holding back of tears, you feel that tug inside you. Yes, we have heard of this before, but never seen it from this close. When it happens at a distance it is okay, it's not our pain, its their pain, but when it happens to someone who you have learnt to trust, who brings you much-needed food when you are hungry and returns the exact change, who willingly does everything he is asked to do, who just was blessed with a baby girl, and whose wife broke down when she heard that he was beaten, you feel like nothing is worth it anymore.

It seems the torture treatment was crude and went on for three hours (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.), because he was pointed out as the prime suspect by someone. Whipping with a belt (the sort used in a flour mill, he says), hammering the palms on the floor for hours, jumping on the floor repeatedly to break the subject down. Heard the joke how the police caught five suspects and after this treatment all the five admitted to crimes they hadn't committed at all? But, shhhhhhh, this isn't the time for your droll jokes, is it? He cried, he swore on his new-born child's name that he didn't do it, but the torture went on, just because someone suspected him. As usual the hurt was inflicted on the palms and the heels which do not show any marks or wounds. He said his hands and feet were swollen.

The policemen for whom I adapted Elton John's song "Emtpy Garden," after the recent terror attacks are a brave lot, but they need training in interrogation methods, they need to trust people more and not resort to third degree to break down suspects. They need to be treated humanely so that they also treat others in the same fashion. Most of all they need to be paid well, offered counselling to deal with their tough jobs or this is what will happen.

As an aside, Salman Rushdie says in this interview with SAJA and Asia Society, "Well, first of all, I think, it is very difficult, as you said in the beginning, to articulate exactly how deeply we were affected by what we saw. I think there were many days when it was almost impossible to think, let alone to speak about what was happening, specially I think to those of us who grew up on those streets. And by the way, I think we have all agreed before hand that we are going to call the city by its proper name, which is Bombay. It is Bombay that was attacked and not Mumbai. And, by the way, I cannot say, and this is the only time I will say it, the words "Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus". This railway station is and always will be VT. And so, because these are the names of love, the others are the artificial names imposed by the politicians. But these are the names of the city that we love."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Subdued Christmas!

Christmas is over! I can't believe it came and went. The day I was looking forward to, the day I cherished, the day I wanted to be happy more than ever. But this Christmas was sad one, indeed a very sad one. No, not because Ghajini released (guess it is a part of the whole), or the terror attack, or anything of that sort. I will come to that. But because of a combination of factors that make me feel, sort of, well, kind of disoriented.

Well, Ghajini for instance. Let me get it over with. There was this team of giggly and over-excited reporters on Star TV interviewing Aamir about Ghajini and they were going on about the hair cut and other things. Truly sickened me. Seems the hair had to be trimmed everyday. Those crude lines had to be shaved, at the right spot, "what if the barber decided to draw another line?" a reporter joked facetiously; and they went on and on about the stunts, how Aamir was injured and the shooting had to be stopped for a week (yeah!); and how he had to exercise everyday to get that eight pack (what's that? Never heard of it, a little exaggeration is okay, but don't go overboard because a star is around); and how the music was scored and picturised; and how it was marketed and sponsored with Aamir wearing some bloody suitlength (forget which, oh, never mind) over half sleeves and a tie; how Aamir did this and that, etc., etc., ad nauseum....

I sat through all this thinking they would discuss: the story, the plot, the characters, the direction. Nothing. They spoke nothing of the story except that it was a remake of a Tamil film. The rushes of the Tamil film looked much better than the Hindi ones. So Hindi and Tamil films can be conjoined in some incestuous relationship and not progress beyond the borders? Is that the idea? God help us on Christmas day. I don't know if I will see Ghajini but the interview left a bad taste in my mouth. One of the interviewers was the guy who asked Salman, "Salman, as an actor, what do you think of Shahrukh's body?" Get the irony? No, he isn't asking "as an actor what do you think of Shahrukh's acting," he is way off the mark, as everyone in the film industry is, I guess.

Another thing that made my Christmas less than enjoyable happened yesterday. Last Saturday I was in Manisha's office and she remarked how somebody had stolen the LED projector from the conference room. I clucked my tongue and raised my eyebrows. Yesterday, four days later, an unidentified morning visitor decamped with two laptops from my office. We had close circuit television 24-hours and all that, but when we played the footage, the light was too dim, the robber wore a mask, and he had done a neat job. In short: he couldn't be identified, though some said he was tall, he was dark, he was this and he was that. It had me totally confused, I mean, their theories and Sherlockian "Elementary, my dear Watson" deductions. The bad men are always one step ahead of us, aren't they? To be robbed leaves one humiliated, just like a terror act leaves us, well, petrified.

So the Christmas spirit is down, a subdued Christmas was had by yours truly, this blogger.

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all readers of this blog a Merry Christmas. May the season of
peace and hope be a time to look ahead and decide to make difference
in our own and others' lives. This is no damn platitude, it's being
said with a lot of moisture around the corners of eyes and a throat
stuck as if one has swallowed a whole turkey. Peace. More later after
I finish reading these screaming hedlines about war. Hope they don't
start anything they can't end.

--
Sent from my mobile device

For a mobile blogging experience: http://johnpmathew.blogspot.com, for
all else: http://johnwriter.com

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Meena Alexander Reads at Theosophy Hall, Bombay


Meena Alexander Reading at the Theosophy Hall, Bombay. She was in conversation with poet Arundhati Subramaniam

Meena Alexander read her poems at the Theosophy Hall, Bombay, yesterday. The reading had a better than average attendance for a normal, poets-hearing-other-poets-read reading. I was there. I caught her on my cellphone and here's the result. You may have to crank up the volume to "full" to hear her words.

About Meena Alexander:
Meena Alexander was born in Allahabad, and now lives and works in New York City. Her six books of poetry include Illiterate Heart, which won the PEN Open Book Award, Raw Silk, and the recently published Quickly Changing River. She is the author of the acclaimed memoir Fault Lines and editor of Indian Love Poems (Everyman's Library). She has also published two novels, Nampally Road (1991) and Manhattan Music (1997); a book of poems and essays, The Shock of Arrival: Reflections on Postcolonial Experience (1996); and two academic studies, one of which is Women in Romanticism: Mary Wollstonecraft, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Mary Shelley (1989). Her book, Poetics of Dislocation, is forthcoming in Fall 2009 from the University of Michigan Poets on Poetry series. She is Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY and a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lovers Holding Hands in Traffic!




Call it a city hostile to lovers, or a city that frowns on public display of affection, I found it odd that the boy in the picture (on the bike) was holding the girl's finger (in the taxi) for as long as we waited for the signal to change. And how did they meet at the traffic intersection? Was it serendipitous or deliberate? Was it destined or pre-meditated? As regards to matters of the heart, of which I am a big zero, I guess, I will never know.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Empty Station! (Lyrics)

Elton John wrote "Emtpy Garden" for his friend John Lennon after he was murdered in New York. The first few words go like this (apologies Elton John and Bernie Taupin, you are my fave singer and songwriter team, so have mercy, puhleeze!):

What happened here
As the new york sunset disappeared
I found an empty garden among the flagstones there
Who lived here
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
And now it all looks strange
It's funny how one insect can damage so much grain

Here's my tribute to the Bombay policemen who despite being armed only with lathis bravely fought the terrorists and gave their lives in the terror attack in Bombay on November 26, 2008. Sing it in tune to "Empty Garden", I tried and it fits in rather nicely:

Empty Station

What happened here?
As the Bombay sunset disappeared
I found an empty station among the gothic towers there
Who was here?
He must have been a policeman that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and became a good cop
And now it all looks strange
It's funny how one terrorist can cause so much pain.

And what's it for
This little empty station by the Bombay docks
And in the cracks along the sidewalk nothing grows no more
Who lived here?
He must have been a policeman that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and became a good cop
And we are so amazed, we're crippled and we're dazed
A policeman like that one no one can replace.

And I've been knocking but no one answers
And I've been knocking most all the day
Oh and I've been calling, oh hey hey havildar
Can't you come out today?

And through their tears
Some say he guarded his best in younger years
But he'd have said that roots grow stronger if only he could hear
Who lived there?
He must have been a policeman that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and became a good cop
Now we pray for him, and with every drop that falls
We hear, we hear your name.

And I've been knocking but no one answers
And I've been knocking most all the day
Oh and I've been calling oh hey hey havildar
Can't you come out today?

Havildar, can't you come out today in this empty station?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hitler Isn't Hot!

A bit strident and voluble, but I approve of her stridency and feel it ineluctable under the present circumstances. Here's fellow blogger, writer and columnist Sarah Islam on the hero-worship we are foisting post-November 26 on Adolf Hitler and his ilk. Imagine, how can we forget the holocaust that killed six million people, that too, in gas chambers and freezing prisons. How easily we forget the lessons of history!

"Many Indians who I spoke to after the ‘office episode of shock and awe’ said that they admired Adolf Hitler and a leader like him would surely help India on the right path. Sad, that we still think we need to be beaten black and blue in the name of discipline and exterminated if we show dissent. On a deeper level, perhaps Hitler’s handling of the Jews does induce wet dreams in many right wing Hindus and Muslims who think that ethnic cleansing would solve all our problems as it will automatically create a perfect nation consisting of citizens with the correct bloodline, the correct faith and the right ideals. Diversity, as we all know is the not a trait that any dictator, brainwashed hoodlum or inbred nationalist likes."

"On television these days, we have many Indians who are holding up Israel as an example of how a country should defend its borders against its enemies. No matter that apartheid is rampart inside Israel, we are again vacantly quoting from history and current affairs without understanding a damn word of it! It makes me sad that a country with so many global aspirations just fails to see what is really happening around them. Shame! Read more on Sarah Islam's blog.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Deja Vu, the Sham Called Awards

I guess I have been through this before, meaning I have mentioned this on my blog before. I am a big sucker for awards functions. I like to see the stars all dolled up, all dressed up and somehwere to go, corrupting the age-old phrase a bit, I like to see their cute smiles, their careful interaction, the way they keep their eyes averted from their old flames, the way lovers sat across each other exchanging glances furtively lest the world know they are having an affair, the way the old flame batted eyelids at her lover while dancing on stage, the way the star families sat together even forming their own camps in full view of the public, the way they acted magnanimously, even if they had enough animosity in them to burn the whole auditorium down, etc. etc.

But this show took the cake, really. It was called Star Junior awards and there they were, the stars all scrubbed, made up, coiffured and smiling politely at each other. But they were tense, and acting as if tension didn't exist. I could make out from their smiles that it was faked and the smiles could become sneers and sniggers in no time, god help me!

so, it was the awards that recognised junior stars meaning the child stars right. I knew by the way the camera panned Urmila matdondkar that she was going to win an award. She was acting so cutesy, too. Poor thing hasn't had a hit movie for a long time. I loved this actress in Rangila, couple of other films I don't remember, well, they were forgettable movies too.

I knew Raju Hirani (he of "Munnabhai MBBS fame") was going to win an award the way the camera panned him. He was smiling and acting cute too, obviously, he knew too. I mean he knew too that he was going to win an award.

If the accused (I don't mean it literally) knew what the verdict was, even before the judge pronounced it, what's the meaning of having a sham award show of this type? Is it worth generating all that hype that would lead to nothing? Pretty good actors these guys are, but sometimes, during these public events, something slips and the whole raw underbelly is exposed. Not even the best compereing can hide these fact.

Yes, Urmila did win an award for the song from "Masoom" and said "The credit should go to Shekhar Kapoor, I didn't know what I was doing then, I still don't know," or something to that effect. Pardon me madam, could you be more specific?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Kishore Biyani - Retail King

Knowing as to how much Mr. Kishore Biyani is respected in industry circles for putting India on the retailing map of the world, I couldn't but admire this man's ingenuity. Today Food Bazaars and Big Bazaars are everywhere and have made shopping such a pleasure in malls across the country. Read more here in this article written by Sourya Biswas in thedailyretail.com:

"Mr. Biyani began by saying that the last keynote address he delivered was in the “old world order”, with the one he was about to deliver being in the new one. In his opinion, while the former involved competition, the latter is defined by collaboration.

"Drawing from examples of his own brands, Pantaloons and Big Bazaar, Mr. Biyani outlined the challenges facing Indian retail today, and how co-operation between Indian retailers can help reduce costs. The first head of expenditure he mentioned was marketing, which, according to him eats up as much as 3%-6% of a retailer’s revenues."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Do Literary Agents Read Novels? "What Happened Here?"

It's weird and its upsetting. Yeah, it is. These days people jump to conclusions about a book or novel before they read it. I participated in a discussion on an online forum and most of the participants hadn't read the book but seemed so knowledable, in fact, more knowledgable than the author himself, or Poovannamnilkunnathil Mathaichettan himself. Back and forth the arguments went about semantics, motives, author's quirks of language, endless arguments over grammar, but nobody had read the book, and I am sure nobody will.

Says Mathaichettan, "You know there is a section in the novel "White Tiger" which goes as follows":

"One day, as I was driving my ex-employers Mr. Ashok and Pinky Madam in their Honda City car, Mr. Ashok put a hand on my shoulder, and said, "Pull over to the side." Following this command, he leaned forward so close that I could smell his aftershave -- it was a delicious, fruitlike smell that day -- and said, politely as ever, "Balram, I have a few questions to ask you, all right?"

""Yes, sir," I said.

""Balram," Mr. Ashok asked, "how many planets are there in the sky?"

"I gave the answer as best as I could.

""Balram, who was the first prime minister of India?"

"And then: "Balram, what is the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim?"

"And then: "What is the name of our continent?"

"Mr. Ashok leaned back and asked Pinky Madam, "Did you hear his answers?"

""Was he joking?" she asked, and my heart beat faster, as it did every time she said something.

""No. That's really what he thinks the correct answers are."

"She giggled when she heard this: but his face, which I saw reflected in my rearview mirror, was serious.

""The thing is, he probably has...what, two, three years of schooling in him? He can read and write, but he doesn't get what he's read. He's half-baked. The country is full of people like him, I'll tell you that. And we entrust our glorious parliamentary democracy" -- he pointed at me -- "to characters like these. That's the whole tragedy of this country.""

I find this amusing. What I am also stumped and stupefied as to how these days people discuss a book even before reading it. But then neither do the literary agent and editor. Then

I read this here
:

"The first line and first paragraph should demonstrate great writing ability and the knowledge that the author knows how to write a hook. If it's a romance, it would be nice if the hero/heroine meet on the first page or close to it."

I have suspected this for a long time. These days writers write a stunning first paragraph, the agent after reading the bombastic first para, is so inspired that he/she rushes to the editor at the publisher and say, "Look here, this is a sure Booker/Pulitzer/Commonwealth prize winner. The editor is suitably awed and assigns the newly recruited fine arts graduate editor to edit it. The book is published, critics are invited to the wine, cheese and dinner party with lot of wine, and people read the first ten pages and start denigrating/deriding/sniggering/character assassinating the book/author/editor.

Exactly what Ashoky said to Pnky madam about Balram Halwai:

"The country is full of people like him, I'll tell you that. And we entrust our glorious parliamentary democracy" -- he pointed at me -- "to characters like these. That's the whole tragedy of this country."

Once again Mathaichettan reminded me of this dialogue when I read the reports in the press about the terror attacks. Some say we should become a dictatorship, some say bring back the emergency, some say hate them and love ourselves more, some say we need more Hindu fundamentalists, some say we need more Naxalites, some say the law-keepers should be shot, some say politicians are dummies and duds and they should be sent to the wilderness of the Sahara, etc. etc. Where's the voice of reason in this cacophony, where's the tranquility that we need to mull over and do something constructive.

I am overwhelmed, my senses are reeling, I am flabbergasted, the numbness hasn't ended, the solutions aren't found, and every evening after I leave the office for home, I weep. Yes my eyes become moist for all those people who died, so close, in the heart of a heartless city, because of the callousness of a few.

A few ministers have resigned and we hope order has been restored. But one indication of nothing having changed is that the metal detectors at VT station are still unmanned and the policemen/policewomen still gather in a bunch and chat. As if nothing ever happened here. I am reminded of Elton John's song "What happened here, as the New York sunset disappeared" about the death of John Lennon a friend. It's as if nothing happened in Bombay. We are no respecters of history, we sneer and snigger at history and don't learn from its lessons.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Last Sunday's Walk in Nature Park at CBD Belapur


This is me taking a walk in the local nature park called "Valley Park" at CBD Belapur.

Now for something calm, soothing, and relaxing. This is last sunday's walk in the nature park at CBD Belapur which is a favourite haunt of mine since many years. The park is deserted for most parts of the day as they maintain strict timing (must be 6 to 9 in the morning and 5 to 8 in the evening, I am not sure). It's a soothing two kilometre walk and one can really breath unpolluted air, hear the bird sounds, sit and stare at trees, and even do yoga or push ups (which is what I do). Take a look, and if you like it do come there and look out for a balding gentleman with a phone camera jabbering wildly into it.

Oh, lest I forget, bring your phone camera, too!

The Taj Mahal Hotel: Anjali's and Michael's Story

Here's what Michael Pollack and Anjali went through at the Taj, published in Forbes, in their own words, at the scene of the attack, in the mind-numbing, brain-tearing, heart thumping, pulse throbbing atmosphere of tension, survival, courage, grace under pressure... and what else... words fail me. Pollack was all praise for the staff of Taj and our security commandos who did the wonderful job of rescuing them.

Why did the big-mouthed politician have to talk to a television camera and give away the lives of so many people? He must have got the information from SMSes and thought he was doing a whole lot of good while he was risking the lives of tens of people. Yes, he called a channel and said, "People in the Chambers are safe," and the following is what I guess happened. (An aside here is not out of place here: The Chambers is an exclusive and elite club to which membership is by invitation only. Naturally, members are either captains of industry or distinguished members of society.) Somehow the perpetrators of the crime got wind of the people hiding in The Chambers (obviously, it has to be through the channels), and must have asked the staff to identify where the Chambers was.

It seems the above link is a video, and I can't see it properly, so I am taking the liberty of posting a transcript, for fair use, of course:

"My story begins innocuously, with a dinner reservation in a world-class hotel. It ends 12 hours later after the Indian army freed us.

"My point is not to sensationalize events. It is to express my gratitude and pay tribute to the staff of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, who sacrificed their lives so that we could survive. They, along with the Indian army, are the true heroes that emerged from this tragedy.
My wife, Anjali, and I were married in the Taj's Crystal Ballroom. Her parents were married there, too, and so were Shiv and Reshma, the couple with whom we had dinner plans. In fact, my wife and Reshma, both Bombay girls, grew up hanging out and partying the night away there and at the Oberoi Hotel, another terrorist target.

"The four of us arrived at the Taj around 9:30 p.m. for dinner at the Golden Dragon, one of the better Chinese restaurants in Mumbai. We were a little early, and our table wasn't ready. So we walked next door to the Harbor Bar and had barely begun to enjoy our beers when the host told us our table was ready. We decided to stay and finish our drinks.

"Thirty seconds later, we heard what sounded like a heavy tray smashing to the ground. This was followed by 20 or 30 similar sounds and then absolute silence. We crouched behind a table just feet away from what we now knew were gunmen. Terrorists had stormed the lobby and were firing indiscriminately.

"We tried to break the glass window in front of us with a chair, but it wouldn't budge. The Harbour Bar's hostess, who had remained at her post, motioned to us that it was safe to make a run for the stairwell. She mentioned, in passing, that there was a dead body right outside in the corridor. We believe this courageous woman was murdered after we ran away.

"(We later learned that minutes after we climbed the stairs, terrorists came into the Harbour Bar, shot everyone who was there and executed those next door at the Golden Dragon. The staff there was equally brave, locking their patrons into a basement wine cellar to protect them. But the terrorists managed to break through and lob in grenades that killed everyone in the basement.)

"We took refuge in the small office of the kitchen of another restaurant, Wasabi, on the second floor. Its chef and staff served the four of us food and drink and even apologized for the inconvenience we were suffering.

"Through text messaging, e-mail on BlackBerrys and a small TV in the office, we realized the full extent of the terrorist attack on Mumbai. We figured we were in a secure place for the moment. There was also no way out.

"At around 11:30 p.m., the kitchen went silent. We took a massive wooden table and pushed it up against the door, turned off all the lights and hid. All of the kitchen workers remained outside; not one staff member had run.

"The terrorists repeatedly slammed against our door. We heard them ask the chef in Hindi if anyone was inside the office. He responded calmly: "No one is in there. It's empty." That is the second time the Taj staff saved our lives.

"After about 20 minutes, other staff members escorted us down a corridor to an area called The Chambers, a members-only area of the hotel. There were about 250 people in six rooms. Inside, the staff was serving sandwiches and alcohol. People were nervous, but cautiously optimistic. We were told The Chambers was the safest place we could be because the army was now guarding its two entrances and the streets were still dangerous. There had been attacks at a major railway station and a hospital.

"But then, a member of parliament phoned into a live newscast and let the world know that hundreds of people--including CEOs, foreigners and members of parliament--were "secure and safe in The Chambers together." Adding to the escalating tension and chaos was the fact that, via text and cellphone, we knew that the dome of the Taj was on fire and that it could move downward.

"At around 2 a.m., the staff attempted an evacuation. We all lined up to head down a dark fire escape exit. But after five minutes, grenade blasts and automatic weapon fire pierced the air. A mad stampede ensued to get out of the stairwell and take cover back inside The Chambers.

"After that near-miss, my wife and I decided we should hide in different rooms. While we hoped to be together at the end, our primary obligation was to our children. We wanted to keep one parent alive. Because I am American and my wife is Indian, and news reports said the terrorists were targeting U.S. and U.K. nationals, I believed I would further endanger her life if we were together in a hostage situation.

"So when we ran back to The Chambers I hid in a toilet stall with a floor-to-ceiling door and my wife stayed with our friends, who fled to a large room across the hall.

"For the next seven hours, I lay in the fetal position, keeping in touch with Anjali via BlackBerry. I was joined in the stall by Joe, a Nigerian national with a U.S. green card. I managed to get in touch with the FBI, and several agents gave me status updates throughout the night.

"I cannot even begin to explain the level of adrenaline running through my system at this point. It was this hyper-aware state where every sound, every smell, every piece of information was ultra-acute, analyzed and processed so that we could make the best decisions and maximize the odds of survival.

"Was the fire above us life-threatening? What floor was it on? Were the commandos near us, or were they terrorists? Why is it so quiet? Did the commandos survive? If the terrorists come into the bathroom and to the door, when they fire in, how can I make my body as small as possible? If Joe gets killed before me in this situation, how can I throw his body on mine to barricade the door? If the Indian commandos liberate the rest in the other room, how will they know where I am? Do the terrorists have suicide vests? Will the roof stand? How can I make sure the FBI knows where Anjali and I are? When is it safe to stand up and attempt to urinate?

"Meanwhile, Anjali and the others were across the corridor in a mass of people lying on the floor and clinging to each other. People barely moved for seven hours, and for the last three hours they felt it was too unsafe to even text. While I was tucked behind a couple walls of marble and granite in my toilet stall, she was feet from bullets flying back and forth. After our failed evacuation, most of the people in the fire escape stairwell and many staff members who attempted to protect the guests were shot and killed.

"The 10 minutes around 2:30 a.m. were the most frightening. Rather than the back-and-forth of gunfire, we just heard single, punctuated shots. We later learned that the terrorists went along a different corridor of The Chambers, room by room, and systematically executed everyone: women, elderly, Muslims, Hindus, foreigners. A group huddled next to Anjali was devout Bori Muslims who would have been slaughtered just like everyone else, had the terrorists gone into their room. Everyone was in deep prayer and most, Anjali included, had accepted that their lives were likely over. It was terrorism in its purest form. No one was spared.

"The next five hours were filled with the sounds of an intense grenade/gun battle between the Indian commandos and the terrorists. It was fought in darkness; each side was trying to outflank the other.
By the time dawn broke, the commandos had successfully secured our corridor. A young commando led out the people packed into Anjali's room. When one woman asked whether it was safe to leave, the commando replied: "Don't worry, you have nothing to fear. The first bullets have to go through me."
The corridor was laced with broken glass and bullet casings. Every table was turned over or destroyed. The ceilings and walls were littered with hundreds of bullet holes. Blood stains were everywhere, though, fortunately, there were no dead bodies to be seen.

"A few minutes after Anjali had vacated, Joe and I peeked out of our stall. We saw multiple commandos and smiled widely. I had lost my right shoe while sprinting to the toilet so I grabbed a sheet from the floor, wrapped it around my foot and proceeded to walk over the debris to the hotel lobby.

"Anjali and I embraced for the first time in seven hours in the Taj's ground floor entrance. I didn't know whether she was dead or injured because we hadn't been able to text for the past three hours.

"I wanted to take a picture of us on my BlackBerry, but Anjali wanted us to get out of there before doing anything.

"She was right--our ordeal wasn't completely over. A large bus pulled up in front of the Taj to collect us and, just about as it was fully loaded, gunfire erupted again. The terrorists were still alive and firing automatic weapons at the bus. Anjali was the last to get on the bus, and she eventually escaped in our friend's car. I ducked under some concrete barriers for cover and wound up the subject of photos that were later splashed across the media. Shortly thereafter, an ambulance came and drove a few of us to safety. An hour later, Anjali and I were again reunited at her parents' home. Our Thanksgiving had just gained a lot more meaning.

"Some may say our survival was due to random luck, others might credit divine intervention. But 72 hours removed from these events, I can assure you only one thing: Far fewer people would have survived if it weren't for the extreme selflessness shown by the Taj staff, who organized us, catered to us and then, in the end, literally died for us.

"They complemented the extreme bravery and courage of the Indian commandos, who, in a pitch-black setting and unfamiliar, tightly packed terrain, valiantly held the terrorists at bay.
It is also amazing that, out of our entire group, not one person screamed or panicked. There was an eerie but quiet calm that pervaded--one more thing that got us all out alive. Even people in adjacent rooms, who were being executed, kept silent.

"It is much easier to destroy than to build, yet somehow humanity has managed to build far more than it has ever destroyed. Likewise, in a period of crisis, it is much easier to find faults and failings rather than to celebrate the good deeds. It is now time to commemorate our heroes."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Terrorist Likes Amitabh Movies


No I won't discuss politics here though I will mention in passing that the world was expecting Sheila Dixit to lose and she won. That's a brave woman who has done a lot more for Delhi than the leaders in Bombay has done for their city.

Ahem, how shall I say this, kind of, numbness after the attack hasn't worn off, so I along with friend and colleague Harjinder went on an exploration of the bullet marks at VT station. One bullet had pierced the indicator where train destinations are displayed, several bullet marks where Mr. Zende sat, announcing to people to run away from the terrorists, and even in the window mentioned here where the bullet had entered the glass and gone clean through to strike the wall behind. Such force, such brute force. Who drilled such hatred into you?

I don't know whom to praise or whom to criticise. I have lost my judgement. What I say here may sound like f***ing crap to cognoscenti who read this. But I will say it nevertheless. But then what shall I say about misguided people who by proxy have come from another country to take revenge for atrocities that were committed on a people unknown to them in another country. And to lose their lives in the process. It seemed this purveyor of terror is a fan of Amitabh movies and asked the prison authorities to show him Amitabh's violent genre of movies featuring so much "dishoom dishoom" and gore.

And then I see this movie on the Bachchan family on MTV about their fabulous wealth and I go , "What the shitting toad is this?" Happens he is paid Rs 115 crore to blog his thoughts and I am paid nothing and only have a pidlin $ 4 in my adsense account so far. It's another matter that he wears shoes that cost my entire roji-roti of one month. Bachchan-saab, knowing as how popular you are throughout the world (star of the millennium and all that) and a favorite of terrorists, and knowing as to how you keep a gun under your pillow, will you hire me to blog your thought for a mere one per cent of that amount. I will dutifully create whatever you want, please, sir, pleaaassseee!

Muchkundji Dubeyji, friend and small time politician says, "Hamar Hindi mein ek kahavat hai, "Pratyakshya ko praman ki aavashykta nahi" matlab "Facts don't require proof to verify it."

Monday, December 08, 2008

You Are Doing Fine, Barkha Dutt!

Here's Shobhaa De defending Barkha Dutt in her blog. I agree. I must applaud Barkha Dutt and other TV journalists for covering the events of 26th November in spite of the heavy odds against them. There was no food, the public toilets are dirty, and there aren't the comforts we enjoy in our drawing rooms as we sit back in our comfortable armchairs and fart our significant opinions on the proceedings. True, there may have been glitches, they may have seemed a bit hysterical and the general air must have been very competitive. But did we face the bullets, did we go out at all? But let us congratulate them on a job well done against heavy odds. While you are there, also read the comments which throw up the heroism of these intrepid reporters.

Now some guy has started a group on Facebook against Barkha. Come on, how can you do it, when there's a big difference between farting in your armchair and farting while facing real AK 47 bullets. Give me a break!

So Rahul, Mahrukh, Barkha, Rajdeep, Shai, we salute you.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

These Politicians Are Definitely out of Touch

The churlish behaviour of Indian politicians continues. It shows how far our politicians are out of touch with the people, insulated as they are by their blandishers, babus and bodyguards. Here are some weird behaviour and words said by our leaders, “Weird,” as friend and blogger V Murthy would put it:

Margaret Alva resigns from the party because her son wasn’t given a ticket to contest in the coming elections. Lady, if your son had merit he would have got the ticket, why such petulance? After all, this so clearly shows the nepotism that your party is rife with. Why such petty mindedness? After all, you were so close to the powerful people in the party, what happened all of a sudden?

Narayan Rane is thrown out of the party for rebelling when he wasn’t made the chief minister of Maharashtra. Rane-saab, why don’t you have a little more patience? Your turn will soon come. Your case of calling politicians corrupt is like the pot calling the kettle black.

R. R. Patil raised hackles of the entire nation when he called the terror attacks “small incidents” and also said, “They came to kill 5000, we restricted them to 200.” Very wisely said. If the terrorists came with the aim of killing 1 million and managed only to kill 40,000 he would have said, “Look, do not go by my looks; I may look puny to you, but I stopped them at 40,000 with my lathi wielding skills, or they would have killed 1 million. Right?

Achuthanandan, Kerala Chief Ministers said, “Not even a dog would have visited Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s (the NSG commando who gave his life in the Taj Mahal terror operation) house.” Turns out he visited the house and thereby has inherited for himself the more or less appropriate epithet of something even less than a pie dog.

Politicians can be odd when they keep quiet and don’t open their mouths, too. Look at a usually voluble politician of Maharashtra. Not one word has come out of his flappy mouth in the general melee and confusion post-terror-attacks. The joys of silences?

When US secretary Condi Rice came calling, a politician from Tamil Nadu was seen slurping and exclaiming, “Aiyooooo, is that that riceu they get in Pondicherry and Puducherry? I likeu them very muchu, saar, soooo tasty!” Saar, please saar, it’s Condi and not Pondi.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Brave Announcer at VT; Pictures of the Terror Attack at VT

When the terrorists came calling Mr. Zende, an announcer at VT was on duty. He heard the commotion and shooting at the platform where the long-distance trains halted. He immediately warned the passengers at the local train halt to clear the platform immediately and run for their lives. The public ran for their their lives. The result: when the terrorists came the platforms of the local section was empty as you can see from pictures below. Mr. Zende has been rewarded with Rs. 1 million for his bravery which saved hundreds of lives, including some of my regular train companions (I travel by this section of the local rail network).

Hearing the announcements the terrorists started shooting at where Mr. Zende was seated. That is the window on the first floor (see the arched window with the air-conditioners to the right), the glass of which still has cracks made by the bullet. 

Below is a picture I got from a forward which shows the terrorist on the right shooting at the window where Zende was seated.























Seen below is a picture I took this morning of the window on the right (in the picture above) the granite sill of which was chipped when the bullet struck it. You can see what an impact a bullet fired from an AK 56 must have had to chip the strong granite window sill. Amazing, isn't it?

Of South Bombay Patois and Simi Garewal

"Go to the Four Seasons and look down from the top floor at the slums around
you. Do you know what flags you will see? Not the Congress's, not the BJP's,
not the Shiv Sena's. Pakistan! Pakistani flags fly high...! You know what I
think? We should carpet-bomb Pakistan. That's the only way we can give a
clear message."

I don’t know if Simi Garewal actually made this statement in the TV show “We the People” (but its reported in the venerable Telegraph). I only know that she is a South Bombay person by her above tirade in the aftermath of the terror attack in Bombay. When I was growing up in Bombay in the early sixties and seventies I used to look at these bachchas as the privileged kids of industrialists, the socialites, the movers and shakers, and as people to be held in awe because they had the money, which we didn't have much. When we suburban boys from Chembur (which was literally the back of beyond for them) would go to the English movies in Regal, Sterling and Eros these spoilt children would capture and dominate the lobby and start their peculiar patois which went something like this:

“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii, Dinshawwwww, I thought yaaaaaaaaaa youuu willllll not (the “t” like the finger inserted in a bottle and suddenly snapped out) showwww upppppp only yaaaaaaaaaaa!”

To this Dinshaw would smile shyly adjust his unruly hair and say, “What showwwww upppp yaaaaaaa, I showed up naaaaaaaaa, I was held up in the traffic naaaaaaa? Whatyoutalking, naaaaaa….”

“Hi Jignessssshhhh, I saw you coming hurrrrryyyyinggggg, so, so huuuuurrrrryy-burrrrryyyy yaaaaaaa, why, youuuuu lookkkkk sssssoooooooooooo wildddddd, yaaaaaa!”

Then they would all giggle like girls.

Now when I read Priya Ramani’s column in The Mint I am reminded of those days how we poor suburban boys used to feel so inferior to them, such know alls with their South Bombay patois.

Turns out that now the affluent peoples of South Bombay have been hit by terror, Priya Ramani’s column shows how ignorant the likes of Simi Garewal are. They think that India ends in the north at VT station, in the west at Machimar Nagar, in the east at Taj and Gateway and in the south at Navy Nagar.

They are familiar with London, Frankfurt, New York and Los Angeles and keep dropping names of shopping centres in these destinations where they got their “Aaaarmaaaniiiiiis and Ralphhhhh Laurenssssssss”.

I know, I know, I may be rubbing it in. But I lived among these types (I have a few cousins also ensconced in these areas, who on the few occasions we met disowned me!) and one of my bosses who lived in this area was a big celebrity and social activist and became a big politician in the process, but he still couldn’t get rid of the South Bombay patois.

Now that terror has exposed the underbelly of the South Bombayiite, exercise caution before shooting your pretty mouths off, understand, yaaaaaaaaaa?

("yaaaaa" is actually a corruption of "yaar" or "friend" and "na" in Hindi means "isn't it so?")

Friday, December 05, 2008

A Simple Uncorrupted Life

Here's a short short I wrote today. The genre of the short short, or flash fiction, or 55-er has held my fancy for some time, like water holds my fancy, and was a bit reluctant to dive right in. These days I am writing more of this type since a bigger and fatter short story is beyond reach because of the time commitment it requires. Following is an excerpt, to read on go here.

He looks old to me, his eyes are rheumy, and his hands are stiff on the steering wheel, which he holds the way I was taught to hold it – with both hands planted on either side. I put the taxi’s meter flag down for him, got in in the front seat alongside him, the old geezer seemed okay, driving smoothly, without jerks. Then I am in two minds: should I; shouldn’t I? I mean, I like to talk to taxi drivers, but not this one, suppose he kept silent and asked me to mind my own business.

But being the impulsive guy I am, I spoke.

“How long have you been driving a taxi?”

“Fifty years.” He warms up instinctively to conversation.

“Fifty years!” I say incredulously.

He nods.

“And how old are you now?”

“Seventy-six.”

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Don't Blame the Peace-loving Majority

In this post by fellow blogger Zafar Anjum from Singalore titled "Defeat the Tyranny of Terror" he argues strongly that the Muslim community should not be mistaken for the terror acts of a few.

"The lack of Muslim response to their cause has made the ‘global terrorists’ desperate. In desperation, they have gone for a far more sinister plan—if you can’t alienate theMuslims for global Jihad, make everyone else hate the Muslims, then they themselves will get alienated. Make things so worse thateverywhere people will begin to equate Islam with terror. Then Muslims will be cornered. Muslims then will have no choice but to get radicalized and that’s when the clash of civilizations will take place.Radical Islam against the capitalist-globalised-liberal democratic world—the world of pure Islam against the ‘consumption and fornication’ fuelled world of the West and its satellite states. After all, other than Islam, which other world religion provides a banking, financial, moral and system of jurisprudence of its own?"

"As global terror expert Brain Michael Jenkins says, frightened populations are intolerant. They worry incessantly about subversion from within. In the case of India, it could mean the subversion by 150 million Muslims from within. In the case of USA, subversion by 5 million and in Europe’s case, subversion by 53 million Muslims, and so on. To make things worse, there already are active elements everywhere that demonize the Muslims as a community or are Islamophobic. They will act as the nature allies of the terrorists."

"There are already reports that the next 911 might be nuclear. Will terrorists go nuclear? Will they use biological or chemical weapons? Who knows but fear mongering always works. Even for terrorists, it is easier said than done. Kitchen table nuclear bombs are myths, as Jenkins says."

"The bottom-line is that no amount of security or preparation can completely stop mad terrorists unleashing terror somewhere in the world. What we can and should do is to make our minds free of fear and prejudice and force our politicians to solve the festering wounds of the world, starting from our own country, to build a just world order. If we do that, ‘global terror’ of this nature will die its own death."

Talking of Dress Sense

Guess I am sorry to see Shivraj Patil, home minister of India and Vilasrao Deshmuk, chief minister of Maharashtra having to resign over the incident on 26/11. They are the best dressed people of the lot of drab, bedraggled politicians that we have. Look at Pranab Mukherjee. Most of the time I see him I want to give him a comb and ask him to use it over his remaining strands of hair on his head. When told Asif Zardari has refuted his request to extradite some people enjoying Pakistani hospitality, he said, “What?” And then he ambled into the office building without saying a word. 

When I see AK (no, not to be mistaken for AK47 assault rifle) Antony, I wish to give him a lesson in public speaking. Poor chap, he comes out a bit incoherent and shy. But these are exigent times when we have to talk tough with a neighbour who has been constantly harassing us. 

Look at how Asif Zardari dresses and talks. Lord Almighty! He comes out as effective, though I think he is a bully. Most of all, I am impressed by the way Condoleeza Rice spoke yesterday. Please guys, record her speech and run it over and over again and learn a few things about delivery and how to appear calm and smart when speaking. And Obama is another thing altogether. Yes, I am going to watch his delivery and try to, at least, imitate him. Look at his posture, man, that guy is suavity and confidence personified. None of our leaders would come even close.  

My wealth enjoying brother Dhansukhbhai is a bit uncomfortable as he listens to my rant. I know why. He scratches, digs nose, spits, repeatedly shakes hands, clears his throat constantly, all of this in public. And he has an atrocious sense of dress: shirts with bold prints, eye wear in gold, shoes pointed like those of magicians and elves, are all okay with him. Ahem! I let it rest at that. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hatred Has Many Names!

Everywhere I go I see candles lit, people in clusters, sadness is in the air, and fear. Fear is everywhere. Can I walk without the fear that some vehicle driving past me wouldn’t contain a gun that is cocked at me about to spray its deadly missiles at me?

Each day I walk the streets of Bombay with fear. Today was worse, maddening, because as I was leaving office came the news that a bomb has been found at VT station, and mercifully, that it has been defused. I longed for the carefree old days when one could enter the station and before doing so, admire the gargoyles that adorned its waterspouts, the gothic spires and the rotund central dome.

These days I am like a mercenary: I duck from pillar to pillar until I am safely ensconced inside the train. As I leave Bombay behind and enter New Bombay I heave a sigh of relief. New Bombay hasn’t yet been targeted by the terrorists. It’s some sort of hick town in their dictionaries. So much the better.

I see some pictures that have been captured by the CCTVs. It shows the two terrorists gallivanting around a train terminus spraying bullets. They seem, to me, at least, dashing and unafraid, as if they own the place. What gives a person the right to take another’s life, and in such a mean manner? Think about it. What makes someone think they are doing something noble by killing people, spraying bullet inside a train station where people are visiting their dear relatives, inside a hospital where people have come to seek treatment for their illnesses.

Hatred has many names, terror is one of them. There are other names, too numerous to mention. Almost every eye that I see is moist, the train station which reverberated with the voices of thousand people speaking excitedly is only a distant and eerie hum, there’s no end to the tension, no end to the creases of worry on people’s faces.

A numbness, an uncaring, cynical numbness creeps into one. “Come what may, I will go on being this way, working, loving and living in this cruel and heartless city where a friend is a friend if he/she is good looking and successful.” If you aren’t good-looking, successful, trendy and wealthy (like me!) you aren’t anybody. The terror strike has equated the man living in the worst slum with the man living in the posh Malabar Hill and Cuffe Parade.

They both know death doesn’t spare anyone. So why not live as if we belong to the present, not to the past.

Who Provided Food? The Ex-con Who Transformed into a Celebrity Author!

The Australia-born Gregory David Roberts who wrote his best-selling novel Shantaram seated in a corner table of Leopold's Cafe in South Mumbai, which was targeted by the terrorists on 26th November makes a fervent plea country that changed him from convicted felon to much lionized author:

'If we continue to visit the country and meet the people,' says Roberts, 'if we spend our time in the beautiful chaos and chaotic beauty, if we spend our money in the bazaars and hotels, if we buy the books by great Indian writers, listen to the music by brilliant Indian composers and musicians, marvel at the splendour of Indian dancers, watch the captivating movies, wonder at the art galleries -- in other words, if we go on opening our hearts to the best that India teaches us, the people who did this violence can never win.'More here.

This poser from friend Manish G: who fed the security forces, the journalists covering the terrorist strikes, the police? No, the restaurants were all closed, no body was nearby to prepare food. The daunting and difficult task of providing food for all the people working, screaming, dousing and directing operations at the Taj and Oberoi were none other than the enterprising Sikh community who distributed "Langar" at the sites when nobody else would have come out to help. Hat tips to these enterprising people with a heart firmly entrenched in their broad chests. I wonder why nobody reported this. Tut tut!

Meanwhile Leopold, where we go once in a while (I used to work in the area, remember?), when the haughty waiters look kindly on us, is back to business. Today at 6 p.m. there's a non-cooperation meeting at the Gateway, anyone attending?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

We Will Not Be Defeated: Ratan Tata




Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata Group, which owns Hotel Taj in an interview with Farid Zakaria of Zakaria GPS (Global Public Square) which was telecast by CNN reproduced by Rediff.com.

"Well, you know, we were getting the cooperation that they could give us, but the infrastructure was woefully poor. Fires raged for almost three hours before we could get, on that first night, any fire engines who were there to respond with water.

"The police were woefully inadequate in terms of equipment and in terms of being prepared.

"And it was only after the army and the commandos came in -- and even they were, in relative terms, ill-equipped against these militants, who were very well trained, seemed to have a plan of action.

"And it has led me to believe that what the city really needs is a crisis management group that could step into action instantly when we have a situation like this, where there's a plan of action, where they can deal with these kinds of crises instantly and well and professionally, and the people get equipped to do so."

Well knowing as to how much Taj has become a favorte with me, I am glad to hear of the Tatas' never die spirit. Taj is and was a favorite haunt since I used to work close to it for nearly 15 years of my life. I loved the air of luxury it had, the good food, the ambience of quiet elegance. In a former avataar as an editor of the Bombay Management Association I was wined and dined in most of its restaurants by certain captains of the industry and I had a peek into their expense-account lifestyles. 

Even now when I am in the area I spend some quiet moments in my favorite restaurants: Sea Lounge and Shamiana. The net describes luxury as "something that is an indulgence rather than a necessity." I needed those moments of luxury to rejuvenate and recharge myself. Hope Taj gets back on its feet soon, and the graceful structure is restored to its former glory.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Achu in Trouble; Dog Quote!

Here's one more post before sleep overcomes. The Kerala Chief Minister didn't visit Sandeep Unnikrishnan's family for the funeral, while the Karnataka Chief Minister did. This had the slain NSG commando's father all disturbed and when Achudanandan finally did arrive, refused to let them in the house. This led to an altercation between Sandeep's father and the CM's entourage. Read the story here.

However, the Kerala CM went to the extent of saying on camera to the effect "it was because of Sandeep's martyrdom that I visited there, otherwise not even a dog would have looked into their house." Well, well that's unparliamentary language for sure. I am left wondering why do politicians open their mouths wide enough to start sucking at their toes. R.R.Patil did it and got the sack, and here's another.

By the by Poovannamnilkunnathil Mathaichettan has sent me his favorite dog quote, from Dave Barry, "You can say any fool thing to a dog, and the dog will give you this look that says, `My God, you're RIGHT! I NEVER would've thought of that!'"

FBI Arrives in Bombay

Rediff.com reports:

"The Federal Bureau of  Investigation team, which arrived in Mumbai, has commenced work on the Mumbai terror attack case. The six- member team which arrived in Mumbai a day ago got to work on Monday morning.
 
"Although nobody is confirming the exact brief that has been given to the FBI, preliminary reports suggest that they would assist in the investigation. They would work along with the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad which is probing the Mumbai terror strikes. More here.

Condy to Visit India, R. R. Patil Resigns over "Small Incident"

According to this article in ibnlive.in.com, Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State is coming on a visit to India to defuse tension with Pakistan arising out of the terror attack on Bombay recently.

"US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday urged Pakistan to give its "absolute, total" cooperation in finding those responsible for last week's attacks on Mumbai.

"Rice, who is due in India on Wednesday to try and lower tensions with its rival Pakistan, said the United States made clear to Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari there must be complete transparency in the investigation into the Mumbai attacks that killed nearly 200 people, including six Americans.

""What we are emphasising to the Pakistani government is the need to follow the evidence wherever it leads and to do that in the most committed and firmest possible way," she told reporters travelling with her to London, where she will discuss India-Pakistan tensions with Britain's foreign minister."

Well, it's about time the US took India's allegations seriously. And didn't Pakistani President Asif Zardari promise Manmohan Singh that its territory will not be used to launch terror attacks on India?

Meanwhile rediff.com reports that R.R.Patil who said the terror attack was a small incident has resigned.

Minister: They Came to Kill 5000; We Restricted Them to 200!

Probably the most poignant question asked in the aftermath of the terror attack is "What world are we leaving for our children?" Those who have children will react to this with concern. What life are we giving them? The reason is our children are growing up in very cynical times. They don't have good role models, and their role models are models and movie stars who behave erratically, are emotionally unstable and are without responsibility. Their easily malleable minds are being corrupted by reality shows where former moles of gangsters flirt audaciously with drug addicts (now, now, don't tell me you didn't watch "Big Boss." In case you didn't, you may have watched MTV Roadies where sixteen and eighteen year-olds mouth profanities every few seconds. Yes, I counted those beeps!).

True, there are exceptions like Shahrukh Khan. (Yes he is an exception, respects elders, values tradition and family, and that may be the reason he is such a big success.) But Shahrukh Khans are an exception. Most of the stars these days have no compunctions about leaving their partners and aligning themselves with others. Aishwarya, Kareena, Monica (yes, the same), Saif, Sanjay are role models for a generation that has no scruples about what is right and what isn't. 

What sound so weird as my friend Vasudev Murthy writes in his blog are the following words of wisdom said by R.R. Patil, Maharashtra State minister for home, who is responsible for policing the state: "Small incidents like these keep happening in a big city." Small incident? My God! This is gigantic, a huge set back, and don't you dare, dear sir, call it a "small incident."

What is even more weird and takes the award for the supercalifragilistic in weirdness in the kingdom of the weird is this quote again attributed to the honourable home minister: "They came with the aim of killing 5,000, we restricted them to 200." Awesome. This man's ignorance is awesome, indeed. 

Which leads us to this other scenario: If they send terrorist with the aim of killing 2 million, and we restrict them to killing 80,000 (4 per cent) then this same minister will exult to the press: "They came to kill 2 million but we restricted them to 80,000, what? 

That takes the weirdness fact even further.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Security: A Lack of Will to Enforce It?

In the aftermath of the terror attack, there's a lot of analysis in the media. Acres of newsprint has now been expended to explain how the city fought back, not about how vulnerable it is after repeated terror attacks.


(A video I took a day after the terror strike shows the terrorism hit areas of Metro, Cama Hospital and VT station through which I pass everyday on the way to work.)

After the blasts in the train in 2006 I thought the authorities would become wiser and tighten security at train stations and airports. At VT station through which I pass daily on the way to work there are a row of metal detectors at the gates but nobody to man them. The policemen/women sit and chat at two table, sometimes they read the newspaper and are least bothered what goes on around them.

After the present audacious and indiscriminate shooting at the train terminus the same state continues, no policemen check the passengers and everyone walks around as if nothing happened. I think there is no political or bureaucratic will to see that the safety of the common people are ensured. Why common people even the elite dining in the five-star Taj and Oberoi hotels weren't spared. So far those who died were poor and destitute but those who died in this attack were the rich and powerful, see this article.

Problem is our security men and women are poorly trained, not provided adequate weapons, poorly paid, aren't alert at all and even the worst terrorists can get through their porous security apparatus. Where did we go wrong? The police consider theirs as another comfortable government job they aren't expected to do much, despite there being some dynamic leaders in their midst like Hemant Karkare.

Meanwhile here's what Suketu Mehta, chronicler of Bomaby and author of "Maximum City" has to say in an article on Bombay in an article in New York Times. Excerpts:

"In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets — for the crime of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people in front of their families — for the crime of visiting Mumbai. They attacked the luxury businessmen’s hotels. They attacked the open-air Cafe Leopold, where backpackers of the world refresh themselves with cheap beer out of three-foot-high towers before heading out into India. Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have offended the righteous believers in the jihad. They attacked the train station everyone calls V.T., the terminus for runaways and dreamers from all across India. And in the attack on the Chabad house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege XIX: Epilogue

11.00 a.m.

Phew! Relieved that it's all over. Many lost their lives. There's a sense of relief and a profound silence in the city. The security forces should be admired for their courage, especially the officers who gave their life to protect the city.

I grieve for Hotel Taj, one of my favorite hotels. I don't know if it will be the same again. I have time and time again visited its ancient and well-maintained portals: to browse books in Nalanda, to eat pastries in Pattisieri, just to bask in its luxury, for however brief time that I had on my hand. I would indulge myself to tea at the Sea Lounge, just to watch the boats bobbing in the bay outside, and see the majestic Gateway of India. I couldn't bear to watch my favorite hotel on fire. It looked too incongruous. 

Among the dead:

Policemen:

Hemant Karkare (ATS Chief)
Vijay Salaskar (Valiant Inspector and know for his encounters with criminal gangs)
Sandeep Nair (NSG Commando)
Gajendra Singh (NSG Commando)

Many others...

Business:

Pankaj Shah: builder, Satellite Group
Anil Bhatt: Noted Solicitor
Ashish Kapoor: Chairman, Yes Bank
Monica Chaudhary: Actor Ashish Chaudhary's sister 

One terrorist - Azam Amir Kasav of Faridkot, Pakistan was caught. He recounted the sequence of events. They hijacked a boat and killed the owner and landed in the sea off Bombay. There were 10 of them in all and they split into groups of two each:

4 went to the Taj
2 went to Oberoi Trident
2 went to Nariman HOuse
2 went to VT

Azam is now in police custody and is being interrogated at an undisclosed destination. When he was led away from the hospital where he went for treatment for a bullet injury, he pleaded with the hospital staff: "kill me, I don't want to be alive."

I call this irony on a huge scale. Here's a man who came to spread terror, was the cause of so many dead people, no longer able to withstand what he had unleashed. One of the most poignant piece of writing I read was on Annie Zaidi's blog. She asks: "How can they be called mujahideens (holy warriors) when they open fire in a hospital" or something to that effect.

That's the irony of it all. An irony that doesn't impute an explanation. 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege XVIII

9.30 p.m.

I am tired. I was worried how I would get home from office. There were rumours of terrorists striking VT station again. It turned to be a hoax. Then came excited and breathless voices in the office saying terrorists were spotted in the lane next doors where they shot innocent pedestrians. I made a mental mapping of what I would do if I was stranded. Go to my ex-boss's house in Colaba, or to a cousin's house. Where will I go in this city which is going through the throes of one of the worst incidents of crime and shedding of innocent blood. Then they said that the trains stopped running.

We took a taxi to VT station and the roads were deserted. Not a soul around. When we came to VT there were a lot of military personnel around. We were not checked. The train was likewise empty and I got a seat, which is very rare during weekdays. Got home safely, thank God for small mercies. I said a word of thanks and drew the sign of the cross.

Writer, poet and blogger Annie Zaidi has put in some lucid writing and an interesting viewpoint together here where she challenges the mujahideen (holy warriors) who would open fire in a hospital.

Journalist Siddharth Bhatia has a different view, he talks about journalists being human beings too, and the sadness of it all, worth going over, at least for the difference of view.

The Nariman House episode has come to an end. Star News keep referring to the place where Nariman House is situated as "Nariman Point". It isn't Nariman Point but Colaba, the building is situated in a nondescript lane in Colaba called Pasta Lane (No, it doesn't sell Pasta, or Italian fare, either.) Nariman Point is where Oberoi Hotel is situated.

We saw the commandos descending on top of the building and taking possession of the building. By the time they got to them the hostages were already killed by the two terrorists. There was bravery on display in the action of NSG commando Gajendra Singh who lost his life leading the party to the flat where the terrorists were hiding.

The Oberoi Hotel operation, too, has also drawn to a close. Read Mark Abell's story here. Only the Taj Hotel hostage issue is not resolved. Hope it is soon.

I am off to some much needed sleep. I guess the commandos, policemen and the reporters also need some good and long hours of sleep.

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege XVII

6.45 p.m.

Following is the story of Mark Abell, a British National who shut himself in his room in Oberoi Hotel for a whole day and night before he was rescued.

He (Mark Abell, a British National)told the BBC it had been "very grim" and he had been just a few floors away from the worst violence in the hotel. "I was on the 23rd floor, my colleague was on the 20th floor, and as far as we know all the action was on the 19th floor.

"We were too close for comfort and throughout the night, the whole thing was punctuated by a series of explosions. "Towards the end of the night it started to quieten down and I was communicating on my Blackberry with other people who were in a similar position and we slowly started to get a picture that we would be evacuated."


The lobby was carnage - there was blood and guts everywhere - it was very upsetting.

"There was a knock on the door and there was an entourage of heavily armed military, hotel staff and the police." Asked what was going through his mind at that point, he said: "I'm going home, going to see my children, going to see my wife." He then described how he was taken downstairs in the lift.

"The lobby was carnage - there was blood and guts everywhere - it was very upsetting. "Just before I went to my room I'd had dinner in the Kandahar restaurant and I've now just found out that that's one of the places it started and unfortunately the waitress who served us was one of the first to get shot." Sir Gulam Noon, another British businessman, was also forced to barricade himself and several colleagues into a room at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel.

They entered and looked through our passports and scouted around to see if anyone was harbouring terrorists or attackers. He said they were all afraid that at any time the gunmen would kick the door down and, at one stage, smoke from a fire started seeping into the room.

"Then it was a panic situation," he said. "We could feel it in our throats. We knew it was serious."

Eventually, all six were rescued from a balcony by a fire crew, and lowered to safety.

He told the BBC: "I hope, and I'm sure, like Londoners, Bombayites are resilient, brave and will withstand this onslaught on the city."

Fellow Briton Nicole Griffen said she was rescued by Indian special forces from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel."They entered and looked through our passports and scouted around to see if anyone was harbouring terrorists or attackers," she told BBC's Radio 5 Live.

We were then told to wait with fellow guests, while other floors and rooms were checked, she added. Read full story.

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege XVI

4.15 p.m.

The much needed cessation, the end point, the long wait, the anxiety seems unabated. What is worrying is that the economy which is in tatters could be further beggared by the loss of tourist income. Tourists will think twice before coming to India seeing that two of its major hotels aren't safe anymore. Here's a report on Bloomberg about the Indian tourism industry which seems headed for rocky times. The colleague who was so excited is all quiet now, seems he has gone into depression after shouting so much, so excitedly. Here's the Bloomberg excerpts:

"The Mumbai terrorist attacks struck India's tourist industry at the start of peak season, compounding problems for airlines and hotels that were already facing the slowest growth in visitor numbers in five years.

"People are scared," said H.A. Subramanian, general manager of Shiv Niwas in Udaipur, Rajasthan, a converted royal palace where suites cost as much as 80,000 rupees ($1,600) a night. "Travel agents will not take the risk of bringing people to India at least in the next couple of months. The market was already affected by the financial crisis."

Subramanian said cancellations were already coming in for the hotel, owned by the Maharana of Mewar.

Terrorist attacks aimed at foreign tourists, such as the Mumbai assaults, may hurt hotel bookings and airline-ticket sales for more than a year. The island of Bali, which accounts for one-third of all foreign tourists to Indonesia, had not recovered a year after the 2002 bomb that killed 202 people, according to a World Bank report.

Shares of Indian Hotels Ltd., which runs the Taj chain, fell as much as 14 percent in Mumbai, or the most in seven years in intraday trading. EIH Ltd., owner of the Oberoi chain, plunged 18 percent, the biggest drop in more than 15 years.

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege XV

2.15 p.m.

There are rumours from everywhere, spread by panicking folks. The office is fully of high-pitched, high-decibel chatter. I call Ronnie and tell him not to worry, I am safe in the office. A colleague is all agog and his jowls are quivering with excitement as he recounts his theories on nation, economy, terrorism, and it seems he is an expert on everything. He has a big mouth and his general prognosis is that everything is going wrong and he curses politicians, police, military, everyone. He doesn't know the tension those people are under, the stress they are bearing to bring the situation under control. It's his type that is spreading terror, in my honest opinion.

Dilip D'Souza, the compulsive fellow blogger has been round and about in the city and the following his blog about his experience at the Taj Hotel. Interesting discussion on Dilip D'souza's page. Go here.

India's most famous blogger Amit Varma who writes indiauncut.com has also been around night before last. Here's his account.

And here's the inimitable Shobhaa De's rant at the unforeseen crisis over the city. Go here.

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege XIV

1.45 p.m.

At the office where I am there are excited voices, raised in concern, about attacks at VT station through which I have to pass. Somebody says that in the lane downstairs terrorists were firing indiscriminately. There's panic in the building and a colleague is spreading more terror with his uncontrolled blurting of what little he knows. He gets too excited unnecessarily.

There's this news on NDTV:

"It is just a matter of a few hours before we will be able to wrap up things," Southern Command Chief Lt Gen Noble Thamburaj told reporters a little before noon outside Taj hotel as 35 hostages, including foreigners and a six-month old infant, were successfully rescued from Oberoi-Trident." The new building of Taj hotel has been totally flushed out and cleared and handed over to police, he said adding that one terrorist, possibly two, had moved into the adjacent old heritage building.

"We have heard the sound of a woman and a man, giving indications that they are being held hostage," Thamburaj said but added that almost all guests and staff in the hotel have been evacuated. He conceded that the there were some casualties among the NSG commandos but would not disclose their numbers and whether they were fatal or otherwise saying that operational details would affect the "mental makeup" of terrorists.

Thamburaj said that operations had to be "deliberate and slow" to ensure the safety of the hostages, guests and hotel staff. The commandos had been told not to rush things under the "pressure of media or citizens". He said some rooms in Taj are still bolted from inside and occupants are not responding, probably they are scared. "As soon as communication and room services are restored, we
will inform them about the situation and ask them to come out".

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege XIII

The wife and sons of the General Manager of Taj Mahal are reported to be among those dead in the terror attack. NDTV has the following news on their website:

"The wife and the two teenaged sons of Taj Hotels General Manager Karambir Kang were killed in the terrorist attack on the hotel. A relative of the Kangs family, which hails from Mohali near Chandigarh, said while Karambir Kang was not in the hotel last night, his wife Neeti and sons Uday (14) and Samar (5) were killed in the terrorist strike. The three deceased were residing in the accommodation provided to them at the hotel and became targets of the terrorist bullets, a relative of the Kangs family told reporters in Mohali."


Live Blog: Bombay under Siege XII

10.30 a.m.

The Nation of Pakistan reports thus:

"He (Manmohan Singh) announced that the government would immediately set up a Federal Investigation Agency to go into terrorist crimes. "Instruments like the National Security Act will be employed to deal with situations of this kind and existing laws will be tightened to ensure that there are no loopholes available to terrorists to escape the clutches of the law." Describing the attacks as "well-planned and well-orchestrated, probably with external linkages," Manmohan said, "It is evident that the group which carried out these attacks, based outside the country, had come with single-minded determination to create havoc, by choosing high-profile targets and indiscriminately killing foreigners in the commercial capital."

I hope the Federal Agency is set up soon. The Prime Minister should be rightfully concerned because he was expected to be in Bombay for the prestigious Economic Times Awards during the weekend and the preferred camping ground of the political elite is Taj Hotel where the terrorists struck. 

The Daily Telegraph reports from Australia:

"Quoting official sources, the Press Trust of India news agency reported the arrests were made inside the five-star Taj Mahal hotel, one of several targets in the city stormed by militants yesterday. The report identified the Pakistani national as Ajmal Amir Kamal, a resident of Faridkot, Multan, in Pakistan."

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege XI

7.00 a.m.

33 hours. No solution in sight. Leaders have come and gone. At the Taj Hotel News channel says the situation is under control. They say 39 people have been rescued. The fire is under control. The blue-clad commandos are still present outside the hotel. Nariman House is still under siege, and the terrorists are lobbing grenades at the police from this residential building. They have 20 people as hostages in this building. It was a night full of tension for residents of this area. Two night full of terror could traumatise anyone. 

I don't see any breakthroughs and the media has been told to keep their distance from the affected area. I see the Nariman House hostage crisis as more serious because it is situated in a residential area and many could lose their lives if there is an encouuter with the armed forces. 

The channel also reports that the terrorists had booked rooms in the Taj and had surveyed the site long before their friends came in. They already holed in in the Hotel before their friends came in. 

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege X

10.30 p.m.

The strangeness of it all. You get up, the usual boring day ahead, you go through the motions of getting ready for work. An SMS comes from Max asking if I am okay. What's happened to me? I am dumb. I ask him if anything is wrong. He says, "Wake up, John," and then I turn on the television. Actually I hadn't watched television last night. Son is going through a bad eye infection and soon after I came back from work, I had to take him to our family physician for a second opinion on the state of his swollen eye. He insists, his exams are near. I had taken him to a eye specialist on Monday, but he isn't satisfied. So I take him, the doctor assures nothing is wrong, and I come home and forget to watch the television. 

The idiot box is what I have been watching for the past 12 or so hours. I am amazed by the strangeness, the irony of it, which strikes me only now. Some people from across the border land in the country walks into its two best hotels and kills a few people and takes around 40 people hostage. Weren't anyone alert enough to sense this danger. What is it that makes these people so reckless. A whole nation is rendered powerless against a few youths. The might of our special forces and military cannot bring a few (only five) youths to justice. Can you imagine such an improbable situation. 

Aaj Tak goes all mushy and has this documentary "I am the Taj." "They fired bullets on my chest," mushy mush all right. There's no end in sight even by nightfall. Now there's the possibility of the crisis carrying on into the next day, tomorrow. Will they sleep? Will they be ambushed at night? 

Again questions and no answers. No one can give an answer, not our leaders, not protectors of the law, not the man on the street, not the "media karmi" as the channels say. 

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege IX

9.10 p.m.

Aaj Tak reports that the satellite phone found from one terrorist at Girgaon beach had a Karachi number in the called numbers section. The owner had made five calls to Karachi. The network also reports that the ship that brought the terrorists to Bombay has been caught in Indian coastal waters. (Kabhi hope that solves your query.)  

Fires are going on in both Taj Hotel and Oberoi Hotel. The toll is now 125. The focus on Zee News is on how the events will affect the tourism industry. Of course tourism will be affected in a big way, people will think twice before traveling to India. Why, countries are advising their citizens not to travel to India, which is a knee-jerk reaction, as they call it.

It is exactly 24 hours now since the first attack at 9.30 p.m. yesterday. But the attack on our senses is relentless, the pressure and tension unrelieved. I think of all the policemen and the special forces who have been out in the open for hours. 

Star News reports that it seems the terrorist party had arrived in a boat named Kuber belonging to the port of Porbandar. And it seems that they captured and killed the captain and the crew of the boat before getting down near Bombay in the inflatables.

Writer Sonia Faleiro was in the thick of it all in Colaba. Read her account of last night.

Live Blog: Mumbai under Siege VIII

8.30 p.m.

A big fire at the Oberoi hotel. A taxi driver came to VT to see off his family which was going to Patna. He told them to go ahead, and parked the taxi and came back to see that they were no more. His name is Ansari. His entire family of six is wiped out.

Just a few hours before Hemant Karkare died he gave a statement to Aaj Tak about the Malegaon case wherein he said "We will wipe out terrorism of any nature be they Muslim or Hindu". Six hours later is dead. Talk of paranormal and the occult. When he heard about the terror strike today he immediately went to Cama Hotel. There a terrorist shot him dead in the vehicle in which he was traveling. 

It is obvious that the security forces are going to initiate an operation to release the hostages soon. I wonder how the terrorists are able to hold on so far, do they not need some sleep? What about the hostages. They must be dead tired and traumatised. Will time heal their wounds, I don't know. Sorry, for being mushy, I can't avoid it. Meanwhile the television is having one of its endless breaks. Be back soon!

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege VII: Useful Numbers

8.00 p.m.

I am back from the walk, and mercifully electricity is back, too. Here are some numbers you can use. Here are the numbers of the hotels where the hostages are being held:

Taj Hotel: 00-91-22-66574322, 00-91-22-66574372, 1800 111 825;

Trident Hotel: 00-91-22-23890606 20

Oberoi Hotels: 00-91-981095688, 00-91-22-23890606, 00-91-22-23890505

United States

US State Dept Call Center for Americans concerned about U.S. family/friends in Mumbai 1-888-407-4747

Britain

Britain's high commission in India is here.

British Foreign Office help line in London -- 0207 0080000

British National in Mumbai needing assistance, please call 00-91 11 2419 2288

Read the latest FCO travel advice for India

Also read High Commissioner's comments on the attack.

Japan

Japanese consul-general in India can be contacted on email: cgj.mumbai@gmail.com

For details of the consulate general go here.

Canada

Canadian Helpline 1-613-996-8885, 1-800-387-3124

Canadian High Commision in Delhi: 91-11-41782000

Australia

Australian Embassy Help Line: (Mumbai) 1800 002 214, (international) +61 2 6261 3305

Brazil

Brazilian Vice Chancellor, Chateaubriand Neto: 00-91-9820686143

Poland

Polish Consul Janusz Bilinski: 00-91-9821238313

France

French Help Line: 00-33 14 555 8000

Germany

German consul general website .

Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany

Tel: 00-91-22-2283 24 22, 00-91-22-2283 1517, 00-91-22-2283 2661

Fax: 00-91-22-2202 5493

More information on Pinstorm's Help Mumbai 

Live Blog: Bombay Under Siege VI

5.15 p.m.

"Media Karmi" I learn this new word from NDTV. Or, is it Media Karmchari? The meaning? Media worker. So, why not "Madhyam Karmachari" or is it too thick for the thick tongued anchors of the networks. But they seem glib enough. Why am I so irritable today, eh? Thick black smoke billows from a fourth floor room in Hotel Taj, and there is fire inside the room. Red tongues of fire leap from the window. There was a big explosion inside the hotel, may be, a grenade going off. And "boom" the light goes off in my flat. 

I can blog so long as the battery in my laptop lasts, but that is not long enough. So I will take a break and go for a walk at the nature park nearby. I need to unwind after the tension of watching all that television and typing at breakneck speed. Don't I? 

See you again soon, hope the power, by which I mean electricity, returns by then.