November 27, 2008

Hand on my shoulder

Notes from wandering the streets of my city on a day of bombs and guns. This time, I decided to (mostly) listen and observe, since there was little else I could do.

Instalment #1, below. More to follow.

***

Outside the Taj, I climb onto a broad step on the Gateway plaza -- part of some future construction, clearly -- to get a better view of the building. There's nothing much to see, especially because the police have established a wide empty space between where we are, behind barriers, and the Taj. With good reason, of course.

Like ET's long finger, a ladder from a fire-truck creeps up, reaches up, past the ornate eaves and windows, past the pigeons and scattering them but they quickly reposition themselves on a sagging wire -- up and up, to a large french window on the top floor of the hotel. Two firemen are in the crow's nest on top, and as they get close to the window, one sticks out his ... leg. He seems to want to kick the window in. I don't see him make any useful contact, though. From the hotel through the window, some people seem to get in to the cradle -- "seem", because the sun is dazzling, the day is hazy, and it's far enough that I can't quite tell what's going on. But then ET's long finger starts contracting slowly, bringing them to the ground.

And minutes later, there's some scrambling, a siren sounds, and an ambulance peels away and off, carrying those people. The previous such load, I had seen because the van shaved past me as it turned towards Regal Cinema. Nobody inside looked hurt, so I suspect this load is similar.

In front of me is a collection of blue-uniformed Rapid Action Force men, sitting on the lawn under the Shivaji statue. A few other men in fatigues and helmets come running over from the left, with steel container of food. It's hot, these guys must be thirsty and hungry.

Everyone around me is talking of the terrorism, but there's an air of bonhomie about. Plenty of backslapping as friends catch sight of each other, good cheer and chuckling. Are we used to terror now, and is that a good thing or a bad thing?

There on the stop, I suddenly feel a hand on my shoulder. Then my other shoulder. Thinking it must be a friend -- I've already met one, this morning -- who has found me, I turn and it's actually an older man, thickly made, wearing a satiny kurta-pajama, orange tilak on his forehad. He is using the support of my shoulder to get down off the step. He nods to me to say thanks, I tilt my head.

Then he stops and asks me, are people still inside?

I open my mouth to reply. It's must be a measure of how starved we all are for news that this little exchange immediately perks up several ears around us. Possibly because I've got my little diary out and am taking notes, and have my little camera slung over my shoulder, four or five people step over quickly to hear how I respond to this man. Pity is, I'm as much in the dark as them.

I say, I think some people are being evacuated. You can see them being taken away.

No, he says, are they still alive or are they dead?

He means the terrorists.

I say, I don't know.

The thickset man turns away and spits out one angry word of abuse. Behanchod.

Does he mean the terrorists? Or me? I watch him go. The men who perked up their ears, they smile at me uncertainly.

20 comments:

Shashwati said...

Stay safe Dilip

Pareshaan said...

Bombay has been plastered all over the news channels in the States. Continuous coverage, began with CNN posting footage from CNN-IBN, with Fox and others joining in with NDTV and Star News feeds. The emphasis here is on the possibility of threat to American hostages.
Despite being half way around the world one is assailed by a sense of deep sorrow and a lot of shame. This is absolutely disgraceful.
Be safe Dilip Sahib and god willing this situation will be sorted out soon and India will take measures to make sure that this never happens again.

km said...

So they are actually letting people near the Taj and the Oberoi while the operations are in progress?

Dilip D'Souza said...

km: yes. I spent several hours in the vicinity. But not overly close. If you've seen TV footage, that's how close people were allowed. There were times when I looked up at the Oberoi and figured I had to be in range, if someone decided to spray us with his gun.

Dilip D'Souza said...

And Shash and Pareshaan, thanks for your concern. It's a sad, depressing time.

Aditya said...

I was there a few days back. Its just depressing, all this. A feeling of helplessness surrounds me.

You take care of yourself.

Kavi said...

We will overcome. With all our problems, politics, politicians we still are a defiant proud bunch. I dont know how, but i am sure we'll figure that soon.

We share the same skyline & the reason for a lump in my throat. But we also share a sense of 'what can i do'. You lead the way Dilip. Thanks for this piece. Look forward to more.

We will be ok. It may take a while...but we will.

Saby said...

Dilip,
This might not be a good time to discuss identity politis which my comments would be categorized as by some people but I would surely want to say few things:

1. Its high time someone's held accountable for the lack of intelligence as in failure in acting over the received tips.
http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/nov/27mum-lashkar-0operative-ismail-arrested-for-attacks.htm

2. Could someone please explain me why it takes over 24 hrs to decapitate the criminals for a heavyweight regional player like our country with a strong and professional military, hostage issue not withstanding..??

3. To hell with political correctness but there is such a thing as "Islamic terrorism". No matter how hard one tries, he/she cannot decouple the current form of mainstream Islam from terrorism.
and that is why I think the two major political parties should come together and pass a law that comples preachers from every religion to get their weekly or daily sermons vetted by competetnt authorities. Some would claim, that this would curtail religious freedom and encourage a police state but it works great for singapore.

Comments/ responses appreciated.

sridhar said...

Yes Dilip. It is frustrating how little information is available even 33 hours into this. Nobody can/will say how many hostages/terrorists were there in the hotels last night (or how many are still there). Even for someone like me following all this live on TV, the information available is very little.It is either poor journalism or it is the simple fact that the security forces are not allowing information to be spread (fair enough, if that is a precaution against panic).
At this point, only one thing is for sure: the people who actually carried out this thing will be dead and those that planned it will stay safe in Pakistan. CBI will take over the investigations, produce a botched up report in 5-6 years and the courts will set the accused free because of lack of evidence.

P.S: It is hard to digest the fact that the numbers shown on the scroll are actually living human beings whose lives have come to an end !

Lightlight said...

Thank you for your posts and your perspective. This is truly sad and depressing.

I'm following this news through the media- including the absolutely appalling coverage by NDTV which has breached every last vestige of ethics, sensitivity and basic sense.

How are people in bombay keeping abreast?

Unknown Indian said...

We must go beyond mere recriminations and hand wringing and do something. Some thoughts in my blog

Rabin Stephen said...

This is war, isn't it Dilip? I mean if this had been done by another country (it may very well have in this case) this would be a fullscale war.

They've attacked us this time not with bombs hidden in tiffin boxes but with guns & grenades. We are being engaged in a war.

Jai_Choorakkot said...

As Rabin here and several others on other threads have said, this *is* war.

Re. the backslapping and bonhomie you referred to Dilip among the crowd, it could be general rubbernecking for ppl out to get a sense of drama in real life, but I would like to believe its larger than that.

"Crowd gathered outside the hotels cheered and clapped when Commandos arrived at the scene. Source: NDTV"

For maybe the first time, people saw terrorists being tackled head-on, destroyed and being eliminated- the stuff that is actually supposed to happen- not negotiations about when Afzal Guru will be released and his flight bookings to a triumphant reception somewhere.

I'd like to believe people voted with their feet to express appreciation of this new resolve. This isnt the time for partisanship, but I'm especially
happy this is happening with UPA in charge. I dont know if it will be enough at election time but its in the right direction.

regards,
Jai

Anonymous said...

Looks like one terrorist is having a jaimatadi bandana on his right hand and holding gun in one of the pictures at VT station.

Surya

Dilip D'Souza said...

Wait a sec, Rabin, war? Is it the weapons that make it war, meaning it's guns and grenades instead of tiffin boxes so its war?

Or is it the intent and fallout that makes it war?

Isn't it the truth that we've been at war for pretty much our entire 60+ years now? I mean, what are those soldiers of ours dying in on our borders, every single day, if it isn't war? Does it become war only when we see it on our TV and it's the Taj that's under attack?

I've always, but always, wished that some newspaper would publish a daily list of the soldiers killed on our borders. That might make the toll more real to us; maybe then we'd really know we're at war --and perhaps then we'd ask why it's been so for six decades.

Jai_Choorakkot said...

Dilip,

1. IMO there is a sneaky cowardice behind the hidden bombs attack that allows us to think that the state is on top. Here the enemy walked the streets, openly shooting people at random, entered and occupied buildings in the heart of the city and still holds territory. It sure feels more like war.

Mob violence in India is fairly close to this except for the weapons and tactics used. I think we've gotten so used to that, it no longer feels like this.

I think we're on familiar ground there: 2 hands of the question.

2. OTOH I'm not sure what to make of the soldiers dying on borders parallel. Maybe if the neighbouring countries didnt skirmish and try to inject infiltrators (you covered this with your do_baata_paanch post?) overland, we wouldnt have these deaths.

3. "why has this been going on for 60 yrs"

I didnt quite get this. Please clarify.

Dilip I pretty much agreed with you on "Freedom to Choose" for Kashmir and went ahead of you in calling for BM to be rebuilt ( no reward to violence whether by Hindtuvist or jihadi) but I dont think thats going to stop or even slow down much this dance of death.

We should pursue those on their own merits, as they deserve to be but not particularly hope for change in terrorist behaviour.

thanks,
Jai

Anonymous said...

Hope you and the rest of your beautiful family are all safe n' sound Dilip. I've been watching the drama at the Taj unfurl on tele and found myself thinking of calmer times and my little boat trip from the gateway with dear Sahir!

Thinking of you.
Take care and be safe,
Kate x

Jane Borges said...

Its really funny, a few days ago the Sena and BJP were discussin the treatment being meeted out to hindu fundamentalists by the ATS in the Malegaon blast case...Sena had also decided to declare a Bandh in Mumbai on December 1...
and now the sena and MNS is virtually on a Bandh now...locked in their homes glued to news channels...WHERE ARE they now...when the NSG and RAF...that has a majority of north Indians fighting for Mumbai...Where is religion and terror now..????? India is living a life of hypocrisy...

Anonymous said...

With all due courtesy to 'due diligence' as far as the media's concerned...they have to, HAVE TO exercise some sensitivity and rationale. This is not a kitty party of the who's who, for *@#%'s sake! Please refrain from spreading imagery, knowledge, bytes etc. of anything abysmal / morbid to the (already) concerned / scared / empathising public. Showing images of a dead man's (whether terrorist or innocent being immaterial) head being yanked up, bloody streets...does definitely ensure them more TRPs...BUT C'MON, IF THIS IS 'GENUINE' JOURNALISM, WHERE DOES IT END?

Believe me, we are all.. ALL concerned and worried about everybody whose directly affected by this. Do not add to it. Let the professional security forces do their work. They're trained / capable . I'm positive all we ALL want is for this to end. We can (as we 100% will) all perform dissection of this entire episode once it's over, in all it's public glory. But for right now, those who believe, pray. And those who don't...do something else constructive and positive.

Here's a start...
http://helpmumbai.pinstorm.com/

imagineur said...

Dilip was asking for list of fatalities..

To last count more than 1/3rd of districts of a total of 608 districts in India have some form of terrorist activity or the other. (btw, it's not just the borders!)

Here's the breakdown state by state:

satp india fatalities

And a general assessment:

"2,765 people died in terrorism-related violence in India during year 2006. A review of the data indicates that nearly 41 per cent of all such fatalities occurred in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) alone as a result of the Pakistan-backed separatist proxy war in that State. 27 per cent resulted from Left Wing Extremism (Maoism/Naxalism) across parts of 14 States, prominently including Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Karnataka. 23 per cent of the total fatalities in 2006 occurred in the multiple insurgencies of India’s Northeast.

By comparison, year 2005 witnessed a total of 3,236 fatalities in terrorism-related incidents across the country. The fatality index, consequently, registered a definite decrease in year 2006.

At least 231 of the country’s 608 Districts are currently afflicted, at differing intensities, by various insurgent and terrorist movements. Terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir (affecting 12 of the States 14 Districts), in different States of the Northeast (54 Districts) and Left Wing extremism (affecting at least 165 Districts in 14 States, estimate based on end-2005 data) continue to pose serious challenges to the country’s security framework. In addition, wide areas of the country appear to have ‘fallen off the map’ of good governance, and are acutely susceptible to violent political mobilization, lawlessness and organized criminal activity."
satp india assessment