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:


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...


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 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'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.


Japanese consul-general in India can be contacted on email:

For details of the consulate general go here.


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

Canadian High Commision in Delhi: 91-11-41782000


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


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


Polish Consul Janusz Bilinski: 00-91-9821238313


French Help Line: 00-33 14 555 8000


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.

Live Blog: Bombay Under Siege V

4.30 p.m.

Nearly 18 hours they say. The ship that brought the attackers has been caught and the Navy is questioning the occupants. At the posh Oberoi there have been reports of around five blasts from grenades. At the Taj security forces are trying to scale the hotel by ropes suspended from its first floor. There is no breakthrough so far. 

One big irritant in between these broadcasts are the advertisements which don't have any relationship with the gravity of the situation. Kotex sanitary napkins, Lakme Pure Defense, Axe Deodorant, Congress campaign in Delhi, anything goes. And not once, many times. What is going on? It's like the occasion is being exploited to sell products. Makes one feel insulted. As time goes on I feel that there is less reporting and more such advertisement breaks. So the media is taking full advantage of the situation of fear. The worst offenders are Star News and Aaaj Tak who kept interrupting the telecast to broadcast these repeated advertisements. NDTV didn't have so many breaks. Thanks NDTV.

Latest news is that the security agencies are evacuating all the rooms they have access to and a big explosion has been reported in Taj Hotel. The pictures show a man in one of the windows wanting to communicate with the security forces. The fire in the Taj Hotel is under control.

The Prime Minister comes on television and expresses his deep shock at the events and offers his condolences to the bereaved especially the police officers who died in the effort to control the situation. He says "it is a threat to the nation's security," and will take "strongest measures to ensure safety and security of citizens." He says that he will set up a federal agency to control terrorism. 

Meanwhile there is news that the terrorists came from Karachi by sea. A deliberate attempt is being made to strike high profile meeting and living spaces. Leopold was the "adda" of the expatriate population and the Taj is known to host Presidents Prime Ministers and star sportsmen. That people can enter these places with grenades and RDX is surprising. I was told that there are sensors in VT station that can detect RDX in the premises. Where were they? Were they at all being monitored. 

Question, and more questions! Where are the answers?

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege IV


Troops have entered the Oberoi hotel and are combing each room in the hotel carefully. An explosion was reported in Oberoi hotel. A man being interviewed outside the hotel has a sister in there and he is clearly emotional. The terrorists have grenade and explosives. So no one can predict what will happen exactly. 

Schools and colleges have declared a holiday. Even my employer has kindly given me a day off. The attacks started with Leopold at 9.30 and ended with the taking of hostages in Taj and Oberoi. Commissioner A. N. Roy has said that there is no attempts at negotiations and therefore it is only action which we can expect from now. 

Interesting aspect of the terrorists' entry into Bombay. As already reported they came from Machimar Nagar in Colaba and were traveling in an inflatable. Some of them went towards Taj and some towards Oberoi which lie on either sides of Machimar Nagar. A man who had seen them and accosted them at 9.30 was told they were students. By some fluke of coincidence this man happens to be a supervisor in Taj Hotel, the very hotel which is under siege. He reported the incident to the local police who didn't take any action. What if the suspicious police had followed in the direction in which the youths had gone? They could have been apprehended. 

A merchant vessel MV (Merchant Vessel) Alpha is supposed to have dropped the attackers near Bombay. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard are pursuing the vessel in international waters. Just a few minutes ago the camera showed some foreign nationals being evacuated from the Taj and the Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel arrayed in position in front of the hotel. Don't know when the action will start. 

Meanwhile no breakthroughs are reported from either Oberoi at Nariman Point or Nariman Bhavan in Colaba. 

Live Blog: Bombay under Siege III


On Times Now there's a reporter saying that the National Security Guard (NSG) and the police are all present in force and that they aren't even talking to each other. Is there someone co-ordinating the efforts. The reporter says the authorities are tight-lipped about the whole thing. He is right the state home minister RR Patil himself doesn't know what are the exact figures. Is there any intelligence mechanism in place? Is there any hope for the innocents holed up in the hotels and the residence of an Israeli family.

They show the boat in which the attackers arrived at Machimar Nagar which is near the posh Cuffe Parade area. The boat is a puny looking inflatable and is now with the police. Some fishermen cautioned the police, then why didn't the police take action? Taj and Oberoi are prompt in spotting people who don't mix well with their client profile. Their detectives swoop on stragglers who come with the intention of killing time. How can they miss a posse of about five attackers who must have looked bedgraggled from their journey from Gujarat border in the inflatable? Why didn't they take action. I guess people tend to slack off after an attack of the sort that happened in 1993 and 2006. 

There are crowds of journalists, media persons, cameras everywhere but not many who you see during the weekdays just lazing off at the Marine Drive where Oberoi is situated. The reporter are cool. It must be difficult to keep their cool in such a situation. No, I stand corrected, there are the usual bystanders who keep staring at the camera. They smile at their momentary fame. 

Nobody knows where the hostages are inside the Oberoi, which floor, and in which rooms. Latest news is that 6 foreigners were killed and 16 policemen were killed. There is an Isreaeli family being held hostage in Nariman House in a nondescript part of Colaba. People are being evacuated from this rundown building in not a very tony area of Colaba. There are news of attacks in Neapean Sea Road and Vile Parle. Don't know how they co-ordinate their attacks, but they do. Talk is of negotiations to save lives. One Briton, one Australian and one Japanese are confirmed killed. The total numbers killed is 101 and not 200 as I had reported earlier. Sorry!

Live Blog: Bombay Under Siege II

11.30 a.m.

St. George hospital is where the people shot at VT have been brought. Eighteen people have died when the terrorists opened fire indiscriminately in the crowded terminus, which is teeming at all times of the day. It's heart wrenching to see the people gathered outside, waiting to see if their relations are safe. A youth cries, his younger brother was a worker in Leopold Cafe. His brother, the one sobbing uncontrollably was working in nearby Delhi Durbar restaurant couldn't see him before he went home at 9.30 p.m. The next he heard is that his brother is dead. 

Sun glasses and shoes lying in the blood outside Leopold Cafe, which is sort of hep place where youngsters congregate. Today Leopold is closed, usually it is open around the week. Why did they choose Leopold and not any other restaurant around the area. Someone, a taxi driver, says that the hotel is famous, and a tourist attraction. Which may be why it has been targeted. The area is deserted. 

England cricket team has decided to return home without playing the rest of the matches in the series. Several countries have given warnings to their citizens traveling to India. I understand their concern. 

A top service official says there are 40 hostages each in Taj and Oberoi hotels - two of the most prestigious hotels in the city. The attackers are not more than 4 and came by boat at the Gateway of India. They have been identified as Pakistani citizens. The world sympathises with India but, ironically, warns its citizens against traveling to India. Well, they have their reasons. 

Smita R sent an SMS message from Delhi. I said I was at VT an hour before the shooting started. She seemed surprised, shocked. Nobody realises how important this attack is for India or for the world. Yesterday I saw "The Siege" starring Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis on Star Movies. The movie was similar in theme - terrorists attacking a city. The military is called in and they go about it like a bull in a china shop. Hub or Denzel steps in to control the situation and all is well again. 

On terrorist has been caught and is being interrogated by the police. Nothing will come out soon about the details of the attack soon. Anil S. calls in and says they should switch off the electricity, which I am against. What will it achieve if they don't even get air-conditioning in the hotel where the people are being kept hostage. Oh, when will this all end. 

Live Blog: Mumbai Under Siege I

9.55 a.m.

I am blogging this as the television keeps playing news about what is being called India's 9/11, as the television behind me plays repeated images about what happened as I was fast asleep last night. I had passed through VT station barely one hour before terrorists entered and fired indiscriminately at the passengers. Shows no one is immune to terrorism these days. Terrorism has become real, very real.  

The heritage structure of the Taj Mahal Hotel where I escape to once in a while (I have tea at my favorite Sea Lounge and browse at the Nalanda Book Shop), to this oasis of peace; Oberoi which I like for its sweeping and awe-inspiring views of the sea and the Malabar Hills, and the Marine Drive, all are familiar destinations, everyday places that are in the centre of world attention today. They attacked Hotel Leopold another favorite spot for me and countless others, and hotel Gokul where I enjoy my seafood (where four grenades were found). Maya S. just chatted with me online. She lives close to the Oberoi Hotel and she said she could hear sounds of gunfire. I tell her not to go out and to be safe. 

I find words failing me. According to Reuteurs around 200 people are dead. People, like me, who have no share in the politics of the situation. The honourable minister said the perpetrators are people frustrated in their missions. That the government is taking this on a war footing. There are hostages trapped inside Taj and Oberoi and efforts are being made to take them to safety using ladders. The military and police are out in force. I can see them in their khaki uniforms.

They are planning something. They say it's an enocunter. The anti-terrorism chief Hemant Karkare and another inspector (Vijay Salaskar) known for his fearless encounter with criminals are dead. Latest is that the terrorists put a gun to a Singaporean citizen in the Oberoi hotel and told her to speak to her consular personnel and warn that if the army stormed the hotel, she would be shot. I can see military commandos in position waiting to storm the hotel. News comes that the terrorists came on boats and all of them are from Pakistan.

Don't know how it will end. Keep reading for more....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gitouttahere, Nikalja Pathli Galli Se....

Seven out of Ten Young People Voted for Obama

Fond as we are of rants and rantings (what with us doing the ranting, well, mostly) we found the following rant rather amusing one, coming from the conservative Republican Alex Rosenwald. He writes thusly:

"Just how broad and pervasive mass media propaganda favoring the Left actually is has not been adequately aired. And it’s not just the news media; it is every medium extant, from the “Idiot Box” to the silver screen to the CD and I-Pod, and even the burgeoning Internet. In short, there is an outlet for every audience for this propaganda—and the left is in control of virtually every venue. Comedy Central puts out their crew of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. MTV. Music. Movies. Television. Even more so than the news media, pop culture reaches the masses. The people can just ignore the news, but pop culture is everywhere. For the younger generation, who grew up with nothing but pop culture, there is, in fact, no other worldview.

"Conservatives clearly have their backs against the ropes. And if they expect to survive in some politically viable form in the coming decades, they’d better step up and start swinging. In the euphoric electoral victories of 2002 and 2004, many Republicans pretended that the nation had been politically realigned—and that conservatives would be in control of government for a generation. This clearly has not come to pass.

"And here is why: 7 out of 10 young people voted for Barack Obama, and that trend only needs to persist for a generation or two before the left has one party control over all facets of government."

Big deal, huh? That 7 out 10 young people voted for Obama means the next generation will have one party control over government. As the Beverley Hill Cop character Axel Foley is fond of saying, "Gitouttahere," and Anthonybhai would say in Hindi, "Chal, nikalja pathli galli se, nahi tho...."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Puffy Eyes, an Errant Automatic Teller Thingammajig!

These things, these damn things upset me. Have I been cribbing too much? Indulge me. Please.

Ronnie’s down with an eye infection and the poor guy can’t see from one eye. And what’s more, his exams are next month. So I took him, one-eyed and all, to the hospital in Vashi, which has been done up in marble and glass into something of a modernistic office complex, which is not what it’s meant to be, I guess. Leave it. I know poor chap is suffering the way his left eye is swollen up and watering all the time. His eye has been reduced to a gash and I have to prise it open with both hands to have a look to see how bad it is.

So I took the day off to take him to the only good hospital I know in New Bombay. But before that I went to the ATM to withdraw some cash. I didn’t have sufficient cash and God knows what they would require me to do at the hospital. Suppose they tell me the eye has to be operated immediately or he would lose his vision. Heaven forbid that. What happened there is bizarre, I tell you. To my dismay I tried several times and after a lot of whirring, clicking, ticking, tocking, and all that, still it wouldn’t moan (You see, it makes a kind of moaning noise before it gives you cash, guess it is very sad about giving out cash to its rightful owners, such as me!) a bit and spit my money out at me. I was growing impatient by the second. I wondered what to do as it was an emergency and the poor guy would miss his exams if his eye went bad.

So, dithering, I go from one HDFC bank ATM to another and still no success. Irony is this bank has my paycheque in full for the past few months. Ultimately I decide to go it with whatever cash I have. And the visit to the hospital proved smooth, and the doctor reassuring, “only an insect bite” she assured me, “will go away in two days.” She prescribed some medicine and I get back home and I am sitting here. And when I open my email box what I saw made me freeze. It said “your account has been debited for Rs 10,000 today.” That gave me a nasty shock and when I frantically phoned the bank I was told, it was credited back to my account as the transaction wasn’t carried out.

That's when I lost it completely. “Then,” I screamed, “why didn’t it show that it was credited back?”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Drink in Moderation, hic, Don’t Drink at All!

A few things upset us today. It isn’t easy looking at a mother mourning the death of her child. It tugs at the heart. That’s exactly what we saw this morning returning from church. First, the bitch was standing on the road, licking the blood of the puppy, flat on the ground, apparently dead. Its situation was desperate, and we wondered if animals have thoughts, feelings, sadness, grief, like all of us have so abundantly. She was licking the blood that had splattered on the road after some careless driver had run over her puppy, her beloved child. She looked sad. Apparently she knew it was the blood that had to flow back into the baby if it was to be alive again. And she was all grief in the way she stood, bent over, not able to believe her child was dead. Oh God! Why can’t they drive a bit carefully, the road was wide enough, clean enough, a five star hotel stood across it, and the New Bombay police commissionerate was on the other side, its parade grounds resounding with the shouts of new recruits. What made these people in vehicles so desperate? They must have been drunk to do something so reckless.

A cousin brother of a dear relative is in the last stages. They see no hope. He is on ventilator and will die if they pull the plug. He is an excessive drinker, married off his daughters, had a decent enough life with his working wife, two incomes, smart children, all comforts of living, life wasn’t bad. When I would visit him, he would say only a few words, being silent for the most part, his face flushed with the intoxicants he had consumed. What makes men take to drinks with a vengeance? Well, ahem, obviously when they first drink it’s teenage rebellion, then youthful angst, and sooner than later, it becomes a habit and an obsession. We enjoy a drink once in a while and have liked the slow numbing effect as it takes hold of the brain and the faculties. But, excessive drinking? No, we threw up once and that was enough. Finito! An intoxicant is to be had slowly, relished rather than gulped, and when it makes ones head reel, one has to stop right there, or, one will have in excess and the devil will overcome. We know the liquor guys like Vijay M won't like this, but what can we say given the way he flaunts his ill-gotten wealth, all made from destroying someone's family and life.

We went around to our friends for quotes for this piece. Here’s what Anthonybhai (a drinker himself) recommends: drink in moderation, men, or don’t drink at all. It destroys lives and families, tell you men, solid men, it destroyed lives of a few friends of mine.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

So It's Official; Indian Actors Don't Act; They Only Show Muscle!

So it’s official. I just heard it from the idiot box and therefore it must be official. So my mind unwillingly comes to the conclusion of a fact that has been worrying me for a long, long time. Ah, now I know it is official and can relax. I should have closed the television and done some writing instead. Such was my huge disappointment.

The interview happened a few minutes ago on Star Television. And the worthies being interviewed were Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif. And the interviewer, a bearded chap asked them the following questions:

“Salman, as an actor, whose body is the best? Shahrukh’s, yours, Hritik’s?”

Can you believe he asked this stupid question? Can you spot the anomaly, the execrable truth hidden behind these word? “As an actor,” the worthy star is not being asked whose acting is best. He is being asked whose body is best.


And then there followed a long harangue from the actor about Hritik Roshan’s body and Salman Khan’s body. And then this question followed:

“Katrina, as an actor, whose body is the best? Shahrukh’s, Salman’s, Hritik’s?”


Can you believe he asked this question? Yes he did. Again an actor is not being asked “as an actor” whose acting is best but, whose body is best. I am now grinning with satisfaction at having got something to hack about on my blog tonight, something so incredulous I am grinning as I write this. I can’t control my face from twitching, my hands from trembling.

After all, it’s official. Indian actors can’t act, and don’t care about acting. They are only bothered about who spends time in the gym toning their bodies and who don’t.

And therefore it is official. Who says? I say so, Star TV says so. Indian actors aren’t on screen to show their acting skills, but the size of their pectoral and their bulging biceps.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Never Made It to the Yoonited States, Not Even Once!

Recently I visited the American Centre Library. Sorry, center, since the American spell it that way. It used to be an open place when I was in college, and most importantly, it used to be free. I read a lot of books then: novels, critiques, poems, etc. which got me firmly rooted in literature in those days. I read a lot about America in those days, thinking that if I am going there (those days America meant the Yoonited States), I better know a lot about it. Oh, poor me, I thought things were so easy in those naïve days. Ignorant me.

Now that I am working close to this library I walked in today to take a membership all over again and, surprise, was told it wasn’t free anymore. It had become some kind of a fortress, no, Alcatraz, is more like it. I am stopped at the gate by a woman behind a door of two-inch thick steel, who looks at me suspiciously (could I be looking like a terrorist in my office clothes and general look of distraction? I would be a sloppy terrorist, in that case.). Jokes aside, I am frisked, racially profiled, x-rayed, mobile-phone-deprived, watched by close-circuit television, by a host of uniformed beefcake security men and their equally endowed security women. Uniforms and security men are everywhere. Ironically, wonder how, despite all this security, terrorists barged into the US embassy in Iran in the world’s longest running hostage crisis where 52 U.S. diplomats were held hostage for 444 days from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981. But, so, sorry, they have their reasons and I shouldn’t short-circuit the system. So I go along.

Now I walk into the library, and see that a lot of things have changed since I visited the library last. Not only is it not free, but gone are the regulars, the bearded old men who snoozed on the newspapers, the copywriters who copied ideas from the magazines to replicate them in their ads, the shelves and shelves of books, the cute looking Parsee librarian in platform heels, with the hairdo like Diana Palmer. Oh, how I miss her cool efficiency that would make me go weak in the knee! Where is she? Is she dead? I saw her in Colaba a few years ago, but didn’t have the guts to talk to her.

And I receive a very warm welcome when I decide to pay the membership fee. There are hardly anyone around, and I must be one of their few valued customers, help pay the bills, eh? There were gangs of students in those days reading the magazines, referring the books, and listening to the video recordings of interviews of President Jimmy Carter, who had just become president. Seeing a video recording was a big thing then and I had to wait a few hours to get my turn, which the Parsee librarian in platform heels so efficiently and so kindly arranged.

That was around thirty years ago, before I graduated. Thirty years! Oh God! Thirty years just flew by in a jiffy. I was a shy and retiring youth of around 20 years then and now I am fifty, sporting grey hair, a bald patch and a paunch and, sad to say, I never made it to the Yoonited States, my dream country, the land of the free, not even once! I hope my son does!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The NYT Review of The White Tiger

The New York Times has come out with a mixed review of Booker-winning novel The White Tiger which we are reading now. Regular readers of this blog would know our skepticism towards outsourcing and the ambiguous nature of the "India Shining" and such like slogan which the media/film industry tries to thrust down our unwilling throats. We know that the truth lies elsewhere, but we go on as if believing it is what the future is all about.

"This grim world is far removed from the glossy images of Bollywood stars and technology entrepreneurs that have been displacing earlier (and equally clichéd) Indian stereotypes featuring yoga and spirituality. It is not a world that rich urban Indians like to see. Indeed, when Adiga’s book recently won the Man Booker Prize, some in India lambasted it as a Western conspiracy to deny the country’s economic progress. Yet Adiga isn’t impressed by such nationalistic fervor. In bare, unsentimental prose, he strips away the sheen of a self-congratulatory nation and reveals instead a country where the social compact is being stretched to the breaking point. There is much talk in this novel of revolution and insurrection: Balram even justifies his employer’s murder as an act of class warfare. Read the whole article."

The review ends with, "There is an absence of human complexity in “The White Tiger,” not just in its characters but, more problematically, in its depiction of a nation that is in reality caught somewhere between Adiga’s vision and the shinier version he so clearly — and fittingly — derides. Lacking this more balanced perspective, the novel feels simplistic: an effective polemic, perhaps, but an incomplete portrait of a nation and a people grappling with the ambiguities of modernity."

What "complexity" is the reviewer asking for? Perhaps the reviewer wanted a socio-economic and political treatise instead of a novel. A novelist can deal with two conflicting views as with Balram's and his boss Ashok's lives. If he were to try more than this we are sure it would make the book ineffective and confusing. Reading as we are Adiga's novel, we can say he is unconventional in that he espouses a truth that is today only the preserve of a few activists and fearless writers with a slant towards the poor. If anyone reading this travels by un-airconditioned bus or train in India one can see the poverty of the people like Balram, the crushing hopelessness of the "Darkness" that Adiga talks about. But the ones who are members of the new economy who always live in air-conditioned "eggs" and revel in their lopsided and convenient assumption that India is progressing and shining will not even admit there is a dark side to their shining selves. While our television and films are perpetrating this glittering myth to the world; in the interiors of India which Adiga calls "Darkness," people are being inducted into extremism of the worst kind - Naxalism, right extremism, and terrorism from across the borders.

Congrats Adiga for your achievement, your consistency of vision and the Booker, too, no mean achievement this!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Rush Hour at Victoria Terminus, Bombay

Shot at Victoria Terminus, a few days ago, during the morning rush hour. I stop by this kiosk and enjoy my morning cuppa and stare at the passing crowd of office goers in their rivettingly diverse moods. Some listen to music, some drink coffee, some have worried looks, some look as if they haven't slept, some are anxiously waiting for their boyfriends/girlfriends. Anyway, it's amazing how the five million people who commute by a a few trains reach their destinations, clinging, sitting on roofs, arguing and even fighting for a seat inside the trains.

My dear friend Poovannamnilkunnathil Mathaichettan says, "People of this city, er, er, have no sense. Why don't they go to Tekkadi and Munnar. That's the best place to settle down, er, er, in the peace and tranquility." But Mathaichettan misses the point as always.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Kem Cho, Obamabhai? What Say, Obamabhai?

At last, a black man in the White House

We write this with eyes misting. At last, Obama has won. A so called “black man” is in the “white house.” Never thought this would become possible only 143 years after the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. So, what if he is only half black? He is only four years younger than me and we can imagine the teasing, the snide remarks, the stabs on the ego with sharp comments, the ignoring, the discrimination he must have received. Just because he is black. Just because the colour of his skin happened to be black.

Well, he won and proved that skin colour has nothing to do with success as a politician, as it has nothing to do with anything else in this world. But would they be convinced, the ones who called those born with dark skin “kalia”, “sawla”, “karumban”, “baddu”, etc., stereotyping them for ever? Would those who would turn their faces away have imagined that this youth, this boy would grow up to be the president of the United States. What would his childhood have been like? Did he cry when he was insulted? Did he wish he had a white face like his mother’s and grandmother’s? Did he worry too much about why he looked the way he did? Did he wonder whether all dark-skinned people are stupid and should be dealt with contempt? Was he ever heartbroken? Did he ever cry into his pillow?

We have done all this because our skin colour was darker than the rest. And, yes, the discrimination came right from our siblings and – hold your breath – even parents. What could one say? It’s for no fault of ours that we were born dark skinned than the rest of the family. We would have avoided it if we could. India prides to be a classless and democratic country but people who have been discriminated know otherwise. It’s a brutally discriminating country, people just ignore you if you are dark-skinned, one even said, “we don’t discriminate, we only ignore.” A Jagjivan Ram may have become a minister, but if you are dark-skinned, like us, you will find yourself maligned, traumatised and called all sorts of names. Like we were in many organisations and literary groups, who were supposedly the liberal, free-minded, and non-discriminatory type – alas – only in name.

India is the original land of racism and what I, rather subversively, call “colourism.” Here the slightly fairer look down upon the darker and the darker you are the more collective rejections do you get. Look at our movies, advertisements, television serials; one would almost think India is peopled only by fair-skinned, rosy cheeked human beings. Why? Because the dark-skinned are carefully weeded out, and an advertising executive says to another, “Make sure all models you hire are fair skinned.” The girls who dance in our films should all be “rice-complexioned” or at least “wheatish-complexioned”, no, not “brinjal-complexioned”. No, that won’t do. We are deeply prejudiced against people with colour, though most of the gods we worship are dark skinned.

This is the land where a woman wouldn’t get a husband if she is dark-skinned. So, down south where almost everyone is dark-skinned, mothers persuade daughters to stay away from the sun and use “Fair and Lovely.” You won’t believe it when we say this, forgive us, but the blasted fairness cream is sold out within minutes of it arriving at medical and general stores and at some places the crowds have to be controlled and organised into queues to prevent a riot from breaking out to buy what we would term this “fairness deception.”

(Without doubt we are under spell cast by Arvind Adiga, whose book “White Tiger” is what we are reading on the train to work these days, so be merciful to us. The language we use is straight out of his novel, dear reader.)

Our friend Pragya Thakur (no, not this Pragya Thakur!) from the Yoonited States says in a recent chat “I am as euphoric as the rest of the world. It has been a while since such an inspiring person emerged on the political scene.” Is Pragya hopeful for the blacks and coloured people in general? Too soon to say.

Our wealth-enjoying-brother Dhansukhbhai who has been to the US several times says, “Thame soo khabar che, Obama tho maro manas che, pukka Gujjubhai. Oon kailu che thamne “Obamabhai” nam saru lagu che. America ma saru Gujjubhai Obamabhai-ma vote karva ma avee gaya che.” (What do you know, Obama is a real Gujjubhai. I say he must be named Obamabhai. All Gujjubhais in America voted for our Obamabhai.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A New Glossy on the Block with Oodles of Oomph!

We were told about the launch of the glossy Henna by friend Pablo Ganguli, cultural impresario, and organiser of Kitab festivals in India (the next one is in Delhi, so Delhiites watch out!) and a slew of other festivals in other parts of the world including Russia, Argentina, and god alone knows where else. The people behind the cool looking glossy with a strikingly attractive front cover design are Pablo himself, Meena and Shim Khalid, the London-born Pakistani-origin publisher of the magazine.

Shim Khalid was born in London in the early 1970's. After leaving school at sixteen, he became a part of the family business alongside his brother Fukhera, helping it grow from a family grocery store in Leyton East London to a multi million pound cash and carry business.

In 2004, Shim moved into the licensing business and bought the infamous Kabaret Night club in London's Soho. Shim re-launched it as Kabaret's Prophecy, commissioned world renowned Interior Designer and architect David Collins to create a ground breaking interior, as well as enlisting the design talents of Jamie Hewlett (co- creator of Gorillaz) to design brand new characters exclusive to the club. In its first year, Kabaret's Prophecy won the accolade of World's Best Nightclub as voted by Wallpaper Magazine, UK's Cocktail Bar of the Year by the Independent Newspaper and was dubbed the ultimate luxury play den attracting the world's biggest celebrities and spenders alike.

The glossy looking Henna magazine, which has oodles of whatchamacallit “oomph,” affords us a peep into the minds of sexy Asian-origin models and celebrities. I don’t know names, but the first issue includes Supermodel Veronica Webb who features in a main fashion editorial together with a Q&A with NY designer Rachael Roy. Other highlights include Robert Thurman, father of Uma and a leading authority on Tibetan Buddhism, an interview with George Clooney, and Natasha Law talking about her first exhibition soon to open in Mumbai. Initially it was the idea of Shim's brother Fukhera but being the more fashion conscious of the two, the task fell to Shim to work up the initial concept of the magazine, appoint an editorial and design team and move things forward.

Shim's ultimate vision for the magazine is to produce a beautiful, coffee table style magazine with intelligent, sexy, thought provoking, and humorous content that would appeal to today's modern British Asians.

All the very best, Henna!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

How Green Was My Valley! Belapur Was Green Once, Now It Has Lounge Bars and More Glitz!


The Frankenstein Myth

Everyone knows Frankenstein, and everyone has called the neighbourhood's disagreeable, pernickety uncle (who shoos away cricket playing children) a "Frankenstein" and a monster. No? We have. We have read the Classic Comic series on Frankenstein and know it is written by Mary Shelly, wife of Percy Bysshe Shelly, the poet. However, what we didn't know was that Percy had a hand in shaping the story Mary wrote. Now an effort is on by a certain Robinson who is hard at work stripping "Frankenstein" of Percy's edits and reconstructing and publishing the original book written by Mary. Excerpts from an article in by Jennifer Howard.

If, that is, you believe that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley really was the genius behind one of our most enduring tales of existential horror. Almost from the moment that it was published anonymously on New Year's Day 1818, Frankenstein had readers and critics arguing over its origins. Early rumor held that it wasn't Mary Shelley but her husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who deserved the credit. (Or the blame; some early readers were outraged by the novel's idea that a man could play God and create life.) Even after the couple confirmed Mary's authorship and her name appeared on new editions in 1823 and 1831, some critics held on to the idea that Percy was the guiding spirit behind Frankenstein. Read the full story here