Mumbai awoke this morning (for those who did manage to sleep) to reports of commandos being dropped from helicopters onto the critical locations under attack. There was also a mention that the Taj Mahal hotel was secure but that’s something we heard around midnight yesterday too and it turned out to be a hasty (and inaccurate) wire, since there was still firing coming out from there. Several hostages from Nariman House were either rescued or managed to escape during the course of the night. The media, while hanging around desperately for soundbytes and real news manages to catch a glimpse at the most of the action and tries to piece some sense of it, often going in the wrong direction.
Later this morning, there was a sudden buzz that a fresh round of firing had opened at C.S.T. station and that hostages had been taken. This turned out to be a false rumour. Apparantly someone had heard some noise that sounded to them like gunfire and panicked.
Just ten minutes back, I heard what sounded like a blast. I jumped but I ignored it. Two minutes later it was followed by another one. I looked up to see if anyone else had heard it. Apparantly no one else had. I was just debating whether to go back to my desk (in one corner of the office so I could have been the only one to hear it, being closest) or tell someone (and risk starting another panic wave). Upstairs someone else had heard it too and called us to check it out. We raced to the terrace, hearts thundering. It turned out to be nothing more than the daily workers going about their deed at the construction site next door. Whhhewwwww.
Yes, I’m very jumpy. I’ve been proud to be a Mumbaiker and faced bandhs, riots, bomb blasts, train explosions, bus stoning incidents, hostile weather conditions and various acts of local violence. All this and I got up matter-of-factly and went to work the next day, paying no more heed to my anxious relatives than I did to the nuisances of daily traffic. But this is different. Living in what seems to be unending terror, watching my own mind lose rationale and turn what it sees into wild fears is horrible.
And I’m angry. Very angry, on behalf of my city, the country if I may say so. This time, I swear, I don’t want to display the resilient Mumbai spirit. I just want to feel safe in my own home, goddammit! And that Mumbai is home to its largest tax-paying population seems to be no concern for the powers-that-be.
All through this horrific Thursday, while the city held its collective breath,
…while an unknown number of citizens were held prisoner by a small bunch of AK47-toting, RDX-weilding terrorists,
…while firemen battled the flames atop the Taj dome
…while commandos walked into certain danger
…while the police stood vigil and supportive, with nothing more to shield them than their khaki uniforms
…while mediapersons hovered around every location that could potentially turn dangerous (and got shot at as well) trying to make some sense of what was happening
…while hundreds of civilians hovered around, desperate for some news of their loved ones trapped within
…..while Mumbai’s heart stopped beating, what did our leaders do?
They presented a ‘dignified, unified front’ by temporarily uniting to condemn these blasts.
They performed the supreme sacrifice of having to tolerate each other’s company in traveling together to the city for a brief trip to show their faces to a few hospitals.
And they gave a speech or two.
The bitterest irony for me was when, towards evening the media, obviously running short of things to say, started airing ads as well. Right after our Prime Minister’s (highly insipid and uninspiring) speech, we heard the strains of ‘Pappu can’t dance sala’ modified to a demand to vote. Vote for whom?
I don’t quite know how to end this yet. The end isn’t in sight as yet. Last heard, the sanitising operation is still on at the attacked location. My colleagues who left early seem to have gotten home safe. But rumours are still rife. And the city is still holding its breath. We need life support systems, not resilient spirit anymore.
These are the other posts I wrote while living through the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008: