Monday, December 01, 2008

Glimpses from Mumbai

In the high-tension drama surrounding the Taj, the Oberoi, and the Trident hotels, as well as Nariman House, we seem to have forgotten the other victims of the Mumbai attacks. The hotels and Nariman House were where the well-to died, they form the memories of the upper classes. Of course, there were brave service-people who also became victims, but these five-star hotels and Nariman House are places where people like *us* hung out. So was Cafe Leopold.

Mumbai's defiance and sadness was expressed by a young man at the Gateway of India Vigil. He held a sign that proclaimed:

Mr. Terrorist: I am alive. What more can you do?

Mr. Politician: I am alive despite you.

I am a Mumbaikar

Yes, he is a Mumbaikar and a survivor, but the crowds at Gateway are mainly the English-speaking elite. There are other Mumbaikars too, who rarely make an appearance on the national stage. Is it because they speak Marathi and Mumbai? Is it because with the sudden and violent deaths of entire families, their communities come together to bear the costs of multiple funerals, because they are too poor to have a voice? Their trauma too is equally horrifying, their ultimate predicaments perhaps worse. Let's see some of their stories.

A grieving mother (left) who lost two of her children, outside St. Georges Hospital

Remember, the first 56 people died at CST--the huge railway terminal once called (Victoria Terminus) VT. This is also the throbbing heart of Mumbai, through which its masses pass, its lower-class and poorer citizens. Then there was the car bomb at the gas station. And the standoff at Cama Hospital, the attack at Ville Parle and at the Bunder.

Ten sites were terrorized simultaneously in Mumbai, and we have all been fixated on four of them. Here are some glimpses from the other side, some victims, some survivors, some heroes:

The Aftermath of Terror at CST, Mumbai

1) Announcers at CST: The men in the booth who make announcements for the bustling station, saw the blood and heard the shots. They made emergency announcements so others could leave by alterante exits avoiding the site of the carnage. They made announcements for the trains coming in, so that thousands upon thousands of arriving passengers did not emerge onto the platforms. Remember this, most of Mumbai's 5 million commuters pass through CST. At once point, one of the gunmen looked up towards the glassed-in booth. The announcements continued. The terrorists fired up at the men. The announcers barricaded the door and two of them positioned themselves beside the door, armed with stools to knock out the terrorists if they came in. The announcements continued.

2) A 22-year old Taj employee was ordered by one of the terrorists to set fire to table-cloths. He refused. He was shot three times. He was to have left for the UK in a few days to work at a hotel there. Earlier he had saved other lives and even went back to retrieve some important files a foreign businessman had left behind when he had escaped. According to survivors, there were many such amazing young people, working at the three hotels. People, who instead of running away, made sure their guests were evacuated. Many, if not most of them died.

Among the dead at the Taj was the wife, and the 5 and 14-year old children of the General Manager. The man himself helpd with rescue and evacuation and worked with law-enforcement.

3) There were the nameless working poor who crowded blood-banks to donate, while the rich stayed away. Here is a wonderful article by hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani:

She talks about the people clamoring to give blood, including an old man leaning on a cane and a four-foot tall man arguing with a nurse because he was turned away for being too small to donate.)

4)There was the grief-numbed man who spoke in Hindi of how six members of his family were gunned down at CST. He was the only one speaking in Hindi among the sea of English-speakers at a forum at St. Xavier's College, the home of the South Mumbai elite. There was a quiet desperation and dignity in the way he spoke as he asked what would happen to his family. Among the dead were two young children. Unable to afford multimple funerals, his equally poor neighbors and friends stepped in to help. His beard and cap and his name identify him as Muslim yet that was not something he talked about. It was unimportant. What was important was his broken heart. And I felt for him, being paraded as the one token poor man and Muslim rolled into one, unable to fully understand the conversations raging around him, as he sat on the ground, his eyes fixed downward because as he said, "meri awaz to nikal nahi rahi hai," (My voice can barely emerge from within). I tried to find the video but it's not up yet.

5)The people of Mumbai--no matter their class, their religion, or their status--have no choice but to keep on living. They have to go back to work, to school, be on the streets and get on with the business of living. They are survivors, victims, and heroes all rolled into one. They are angry and I can't blame them. Keep up the good fight Mumbaikars and never give in.

Jai Hind!


Amrita said...

When I saw footage of candles being lit at memorials for the dead at the Gateway, there were people from all walks of life, different religions, all ages - there were grandfathers who'd brought little toddlers to mourn ... and I cried all over again.

It feels icky to say it but there is definitely a feeling that one of the reasons why this time is different is because this time, it wasn't "just" the poor who died.

Jawahara said...

Yes, this time it was people like us. It's not like the upper classes being targeted in this horrible manner is not heart-breaking. It's that those other stories are equally so.

I too was glued to the TV for days, and everything was making me cry. Such a heaviness inside me.

Sher said...

Such bravery is humbling. I don't know I would be able to act the same way in the same situation. Pretty certain I wouldn't.

BS said...

This is very strange, but true. After I woke up for fajr prayers this morning, I was drifting back to sleep, when some words came to me as if in a dream:

The other cities of India - Kolkata, New Delhi, Chennai - are uncomfortable with open displays of affection. They veer away from a kiss like children put upon by elderly relatives.

All except Mumbai, who welcomes every kiss with eagerness and love

Even the kiss that Judas offered.

Jawahara Saidullah said...

BS, that gave me chills. Wonderful words.

P.S. Still can't comment on your blog