November 13, 2009

Last two names

Elle magazine asked me for an essay to mark a year since the attack on Bombay. What I wrote is a story I've wanted to tell all these months.

It's called "Last Two Names", and it's in the November issue of the magazine. And below. Your thoughts welcome.


One year since the November attacks. What's changed, my friends from out of town have asked through the year. The cynic that I am, my most truthful answer has to be "Nothing".

Sure, there was a lot of anger at the time, directed at politicians and the "system". Sure, there was a groundswell of calls to "stand together as Indians" to fight terrorism. Sure, all this led various "people's candidates" to stand for the Lok Sabha elections last May. But has the energy lasted a year, has it made a difference? Do we have better governance, security, justice than we did a year ago? Do we have less focus on the empty issues that only divide us -- think "sons of the soil", for just one of those -- and more on what binds us?


Of all things though, there is a widespread impatience with the ongoing trial of Kasab, the lone murderer caught alive. Only days before I wrote this, an otherwise thoughtful acquaintance sent me this exasperated note: "We bend over backwards to appear to be just, even though the proof of [Kasab's] guilt is there in technicolor."

Here's evidence of our attempt to live up to an ideal of law and justice -- that we are actually putting this man of all men through a trial -- rather than the murder and anarchy that's the preferred terrorist style, the anarchy Kasab's pals and trainers dearly want us to descend into. Yet enough Indians seem impatient with even that. Forget the trial and hang Kasab in public, they demand. Shoot him down like he shot people down, they demand.

Why would we want to imitate terrorists? And if we did, would that not be their greatest triumph?

Yes, I'm cynical about and dismayed by where we find ourselves a year after the attacks. That's why I find a strange comfort instead in one story out of the many in that tragic four-day maelstrom, a story that gives me an out-of-the-ordinary perspective on both the massacre and our condition, one year later. For instead of cynicism and anger, it is about spirit and enthusiasm. It is about the old and affectionate ties to India that brought a middle-aged couple to my city last year. My city.

And being about those things, for me it is a good reminder of the enormity of last year's tragedy.

As a young girl growing up in Delhi in the late 1950s, Daphne Thomas was a member of the Delhi Polo Club. This afforded her assorted unusual delights, like riding along the Yamuna River and Sunday hunts and what she called "wonderful Tent Picking Shows". But what she remembered best was learning polo from a young officer in the Presidential bodyguard. As she wrote to him in October 2008, 50 years older, this was "a most courageous thing [for him] to do."

I don't know why she thought that. Perhaps she had been a particularly obstreperous student of polo? In any case, she continued in that letter, she wrote it "in the hope of being able to bring a smile and a few memories back of what seems to me another life." She addressed it to Brigadier Sawai Bhawani Singh, Maharajah of Jaipur. As if in a fairy tale, the charming young officer of a little girl's memory had grown up to be a real-life Maharajah.

But why did she write to His Majesty, fully half a century on? Because she and her husband, Juergen, were going to travel through India in late 2008, together revisiting her youthful memories for the first time.

Daphne's India connection goes back to well before her polo lessons, all the way to British times. Her father, Geoffrey Benion Thomas, was a distinguished doctor who spent years in this country. Trained in gynaecological surgery, he was a professor of Medicine in Madras before Independence. Daphne was born there. After 1947, he was Senior Medical Officer at the British High Commission in New Delhi, and among his patients in those years were ladies of the royal family of Jaipur.

Perhaps the good doctor was attending to them even while a son from that family was teaching polo to his young daughter.

As for Juergen, he was looking forward to this Indian journey too, and for his own reasons. After an illustrious career with the German Air Force and NATO, Juergen had turned to photography in his retirement, and India would be a visual feast. As a relative later wrote to me, he was "thrilled to be touring India as a photographer."

And this pilgrimage to the land of Daphne's birth, this journey here with her husband of many years, was also a celebration for her. For she was in remission from an attack of ovarian cancer a couple of years earlier.

Through most of 2008, Daphne and Juergen planned their trip. A travel agent in Trichy drew up a tough but rewarding schedule for them: Delhi, Rajasthan for two weeks taking in the Pushkar camel fair, Kerala, Goa and then Bombay.

Here in her beloved India finally, the occasional breathless email message to family in the US spoke of a hectic, happy journey. "We will need a rehab when we get back," she wrote about halfway into it. Right on schedule, Daphne and Juergen flew Kingfisher Airlines to Bombay on their last day. Their flight home to Germany was not till much later that night, so they had several hours to spend in my city. The travel agent had arranged a car and driver for them. So they took in the sights of South Bombay: Marine Drive, the Gateway, Flora Fountain, Victoria Terminus. Juergen bought himself some Punjabi music. They stopped for a final Indian dinner, thinking they would go to the airport directly after their meal.

My city, my city.

Nearly 24 hours after they stopped for dinner, my phone rang. It was an old school chum, calling from Boston. Friends of his there, he told me, were trying to get news of relatives, a couple who had come to Bombay. The driver they had hired for the evening had dropped them off for dinner, but in the mayhem that then overwhelmed that part of the city, he hadn't heard from them again. Any way I could use journalist contacts to find out what had happened?

I promised to try. Then, just as he was about to hang up, I remembered something. Wait, I said, stay on the line, let me check this blog I know about that's been posting various details about the attacks, Pulled it up on my laptop, and there in Boston, he did the same. The second item, a list of names. Pulled that up on my laptop, and there in Boston, he did the same. The last two names on the list: "Shri Jurgem Hetraz Rudalf" and "Smt Studdar Daphne".

Mangled in the transcription, but there could be little doubt. Juergen and Daphne Schmidt, on the last night of a trip 25 years in the making. Daphne and Juergen, rounding off a memorable Indian safari with dinner at a Bombay institution, a Lonely Planet tourist favourite: Cafe Leopold.

Juergen and Daphne. On a crisp Wednesday evening in November a year ago, among the first of nearly two hundred slaughtered by heavily armed terrorists.

My city, my city.


AK said...

How do you maintain sanity in this insane world?

PS: Landed on your blog thru blog hopping. You are a real writer! wonderful insight and use of words. Kudos. Reading your blog seems like reading mine, dark and deep :-|

Anonymous said...


Sanity is not too far, only one has to seek it to find it. I find mine whenever I lie on my back and watch the celestial procession that goes day and night across the sky, away from the cacaphony of the society

Another way is to quote Humphrey Appleby in part 'Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity'

Anonymous said...

...and leave the affairs of the Republic in the safe hands of the current motley crew of Sonia, Manmohan and Rahul. After all they share the crown and it is their privilege to burden themselves with these things.

Anonymous said... to the Taliban and their ilk, I suppose they'll go away once they have had their proverbial pound of flesh. After all they are humans too and they will one day get tired of the blood and gore.

AK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AK said...

OMG you really think all the ills that plague us will go away after they have had their 'pound of flesh' ha ha ha, sorry I cannot help laughing. Unfortunately they only change shape and name, before you know someone else with more 'eagerness' will take their place.
Ignorance is a bliss till someone knocks on your door. Now let me quote an erstwhile ruler, "Delhi door hai"

Btw my question was for the author.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dcubed

Although I respect the sentiment of your essay. A sentiment that comes from - what Orwell called - "common decency". I am moved by the story. I would certianly like to live in a world that sensitive people like you envisage rather than the world that most of your commentators would like to see with their cruel polemic rhetoric that stands to challenge all that is reasonable.

However, I take great exception to your irresponsible use of the term "anarchy". You say, "the anarchy Kasab's pals and trainers dearly want us to descend into".
That is rubbish and you know it.

Kasab and his pals are 21 year old kids trained to kill human beings. They don't want anything. They are as ignorant about what they want as any other 21 year old kids in the world. And you know it. They are also as much a cancerous development in human society and as much bred by the same mentality as any other elements institutionally trained to kill human beings. Far from saying they want anarchy. Even the people who have trained them do not want anarchy. No one who perpetrated "terrorism" wants anarchy. Ask any bully or any abusive parent. Anarchy is what they are scared of.

Secondly, I also am not very sure I like the fact that you congratulate yourself so much on "our attempt to live up to an ideal of law and justice". This blind belief in enforcement of "the rule of Law" is an essential and primary step towards most of the injustice in the world today [citation needed].

Do you think if this was a Hindu state with Manusmriti established as the legal apparatus in which Kasab was tried in a court of law and later hanged for the most henious crime: Brahminicide. Would you be proud? Would you have patted your back saying, "At least we aren't an anarchy like those tribal Afghans?" This is an irrational belief that hails from the indoctrinated mentality of deification of the coercive system of the power structure that we call "Law". If the state is unjust. the Law will not be just.

Is our state just? We did try Afsal Guru didn't we. Do you congratulate yourself now that he will hanged to satisfy "the collective conscience of the society"

Terrorists do not like anarchy. Ask any abusive parent or any neighbourhood bully. Terrorism is based on the belief of establishment of authority. Every state - ours included is founded on terrorism.

Consider the Royal Indian Naval Mutiny. It happened in the same area that this event happened in. On the contrary, more people were shot down by the British with automatic weaponry [citation needed]. The crowds. These same people. Us. Bombayites (yes Bombayites. I guess even I deserve a "ek khaad karun kanphatith" now). Flocked the streets and beat back the Brits up with bear hands. That is anarchy. Who wanted it? Wouldn't you?

Why didn't the Bombayites do that in 2008. What changed in between 1946 to 2008. Who are we scared of now? Surely not a few men with automatic guns. Someone else. The Law perhaps? So much for due justice.

Anonymous said...


No one else can reform a thief unless he chooses to reform

Anonymous said...

Vote bank politics of all hues have led us into a situation where

1. We don't have a grip on the securioty situation

2. Police don't have intelligence skills or infrastructure. As a result they rely on crude techiniques during the course of their investigations

3. Public and media are indulging in scare mongering

My grandfather was in the police service between 1930 - 1965. He has seen from both ends of the stick. I remember him saying that you tamper with the judiciary and police and what you get is a jungle state. That's what we have become now.

From ehere it is a long haul to fix the situation. Does the current motley crowd of Sonia, Manmohan and Rahul have the strength of character to carry out this task?. I hope they do.

The primary and the only responsibility of the state is to ensure law and order. People are intelligent to take care of their lives.

Pareshaan said...

How does your story help the reader hold himslef to a higher standard of civilization? I was left with a feeling of great rage and wished I could be a terrorist unto all terrorists.
There are things that don't deserve a civilized response - and there are times when all an attempt at justice and fairness stands for is an inability to do what is required - it smacks of impotence.
Let's call a spade a spade for once - Kasab's trial is just bullshit. It doesn't show any body anything - nobody's the better for it. We are deluding ourselves if we think we can teach the terrorrists a lesson by being sane with the man.
I wish we had the wherewithal to extract revenge - it would have been good for Bombay and it would have been good for India.
I have a feeling that nonsense like Marathi Manoos holds weight with the public simply because they are so frustrated. they know they can't do shit and they know their government can't do shit either.
They are weak, they know it and that scares them. When I say they I mean we - it sucks.

PM said...

Consider the Royal Indian Naval Mutiny. It happened in the same area that this event happened in. On the contrary, more people were shot down by the British with automatic weaponry [citation needed]. The crowds. These same people. Us. Bombayites (yes Bombayites. I guess even I deserve a "ek khaad karun kanphatith" now). Flocked the streets and beat back the Brits up with bear hands. That is anarchy. Who wanted it? Wouldn't you?

Maybe that's the problem. Bombay-ans don't have Ursine Claws Of Deadly Power (tm) anymore.


Blueshift said...

I dont think we must worry more about Kasab getting hanged or eating biryani.

Kasab is just a tool in this game.
If its not kasab it would be abdul or any desperate 21 year old who wants to feed his family.

we need to understand what is driving the people who fund such activities and what signal they are trying to send and find ways to cut their sources. I am not sure India is capable of such an act.
India is doing a good thing by trying kasab. I think people are more upset/angry about India than kasab, they are just venting it on kasab.

India must focus on people who are driving this and cut their sources.

AmOK said...

Once again we lead America. We try Kasab in BOM and they Shaikh in NY. The story is touching. A romantic tragedy but a tragedy nonetheless that is the story of many on that day, and other such days.

Chandru K said...

Out of curiosity, and not downplaying the tragedy of the deaths of Daphne and her husband, why did D'Souza have to look for a foreign victim of the world's 2nd worst terrorist attack? There were 150 or so native Indian victims he could have chosen to acknowledge. Most of those would have had Hindu names. But then, I suppose among a tribe of secularists, it is more hip to display sympathy for people with non-Indian/non-Hindu sounding names. Showing sympathy for Hindus is not as acceptable, as for non-Hindus.

gireesh khapra said...

chandru is right.

i found all these names that dsoujja expressed sympathy for on the day the attacks ended.

they are all non-hindus.

Chandru K said...

That list is good and commendable, and it partly counters my previous assertion. But it lacks the real heartfelt, soulful quality of the article about Daphne and her husband. Also, when such a heartfelt article about a Hindu does appear, you can be sure a similar article will be written about a Moslem, Christian or non-Indian victim. The idea being to 'balance' any empathy/sympathy for Hindus with equal sentiment for non-Hindus.

km said...

Very moving account.

BTW, The Times ran a story yesterday about the Lubavitcher Jews, who suffered a loss in the Mumbai tragedy last year.

Anonymous said...

Dear Chandru K

Common! Seriously bro. Think about it. Just think what you are writing. Think about the basics of argumentation.

Here is a little help:
1) Think about what Dcubed's point of view is.
2) This about what inference can be drawn from the illustration he has provided.
3) Now think about what you are saying about the what example she should rather give
4) If anyone with 1) give 3) wouldn't that be a non sequitor?


Anonymous said...

News item... 'India hands over another dossier to Pakistan'

This terrible business reminds me of Jarndyce v Jarndyce

Chinmaya Kanade said...

People like Chandru give us believers in Hindutva a bad name.

The first and most important thing to note is that innocent 200 people died in a dastardly terrorist attack. Who notches up what religion those dead people are is a twisted mind.

I dont like DSouza's politics. But this his account of two needless deaths of two people who loved India shows how crazy and horrific the Islamic terrorism of 26/11 was, no less than the other list of the heroic police officers who died showed that same thing.

Chandru, shame on you for bringing needless religious angle into this. My belief in Hindutva and Sanatan Hinduism makes me mourn Dapne and Juergen equally to Kamte or the Jewish couple in Nariman House, or any of the others who died.

Anonymous said...

Dear Chandru K

Umcommon! Seriously bro. Think about it.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Been distracted, unable to come here and comment. Some brief responses:

Chinmaya, thank you.

Pareshaan, above all this is a time for a civilized response. It's because Kasab is alive and being tried that we've uncovered the identities of accomplices. To me, weakness lies in succumbing to the temptation to lash out in "revenge". In the end, we want to fight this menace. How do we achieve that by, let's say, lynching Kasab in public? After all, this is a guy who came here to die (which is what his colleagues managed to accomplish).

Strength lies in demonstrating our faith in justice.

Anon 307: what a thought-provoking comment (and I have a feeling I know who you are).

Nope, the state is not just. Yet in even a stuttering democracy, at least I can hope to push it towards being just. I have no such hope from gunmen intent on massacre, or from a mob looking to kill someone. That's the difference.

Anonymous said...


"Yet in even a stuttering democracy, at least I can hope to push it towards being just"
-I knew you would say that and yes,
that is reasonable (and feasible) I hope you are successful in that. At the rate you are going perhaps you will be (like a lot others have been)

There is one problem and I don't know how to answer this but the other day I heard something like "Sharad Pawar used the activists from Nagari Nivara Parishad" It did irritate me but how does one react to that? It is not entirely inaccurate and yet it does seem unfair.

and yes. I know you do.

BTW I love the "lynching in public" option that a lot of people have offered. LOL. Its one of those "Lined up and shot" methods. The people who suggest these are peculiar. I do not want to be alive to see that happen in India.

reminds me of this:

Chandru K said...

Chinmaya, I did note the tribute to a couple who had great fondness for India. But I also see a very troubling tendency of self proclaimed 'secular progressive' commentators in India, to really personalise and humanise suffering when the victim in question is a Moslem or Christian. The same sentiment is absent when the victim is a Hindu. That's all I'm saying. You are a good representative of 'Hindutva'; people reading your message would be hard put to label you "right wing ultra conservative Hindu nationalist'. Actually-and I'm sure you can see the truth of this- anyone who equates Hindutva with Talibanism, Al-Qaeda or the Lashkar, is really an idiot.

Blueshift said...

Chandru K

"anyone who equates Hindutva with Talibanism, Al-Qaeda or the Lashkar, is really an idiot"

You are crazy and insane.

Ask any al-qaeda or Lashkar or Taliban...they are peace loving people like you.

They too will be unhappy and feel idiotic anyone comparing Talibanism to hindutva or Al-Qaeda to hindutva or Lashkar to hindutva.

Infact they feel themselves as angels sent by god to establish his kingdom and rest(hindus included) as enimies of god.

looks like you are pampering hindutva as your baby and defending it. Unfortunately your baby kills and is bad too and you are blind to your baby.

Chandru K said...

You are totally wrong, Blueshift. Those Islamic groups do not believe in democracy, secularism or pluralism. Even the most aggressive of the Hindu groups, is opposed to what they call 'pseudo-secularism' not secularism per se. Whereas that is never an issue with the Islamic units. The Islamist groups are against the idea of elections. You could not elect them, nor could you vote them out at any level- central, state or municipal, once they capture power. Also, none of those Islamist groups would ever declare Hinduism as a valid path for revering the divine.

In sheer relentlessness of violence, in number, range, type and frequency, there is no comparison between the Islamist and Hindutva organisations.

Chandru K said...

Blueshift's laboured list is in no way comparable to what 'people of the book", the Moslems have done. Remember that the very creation of Pakistan was an act of terrorism conducted on a massive scale. Then there is Kashmir, where the terrorism could fill an encylopedia. Blueshift and Dilip D'Souza simply want to show the pagans(Hindus) in as bad a light as possible. But it won't work. Pagans have a much better record in non-violence and acceptance. Accept it.

Chinmaya Kanade said...

I would only like to repeat. As a strong believer in the richness of Hindutva and as calling myself a Sanatani Hindu, it is guys like Chandru, who give Hindutva a bad name.

I say this because it is the things Chandru says that make ppl equate Hindutva to Talibanic ppl. It is the same things Taliban says, in the mirror image. They also downplay acts of their religion's criminals, like you are doing.

Hindutva teaches me to condemn and shun every criminal irregardless of religion. This is what believers in Hindutva like me bcame angry about under Congress rule after freedom for 40 yrs, because it never happened like that.

Now Chandru are trying to speak for Hindutva but doing the *same* thing. This is not Hindutva. it is distortion and bad name for Hindutva.

Blueshift, I can understand yr anger with Chandru, but please dont have such views of Savarkar. I would like you to learn with open mind abt the essence of his message.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Dilip has blacklisted you.

Absolutely right. That's why you see none of Chandru's comments on this page or anywhere else on my blog. Not a single one, not a mention of his name.

Chandru K said...

Chinmaya, to repeat, people equating Hindutva with the Taliban are ignoramuses. It's so obvious that they are not one and the same. The Hindutva groups are quite content and comfortable with democracy, pluralism, modernity, and most arts including music, painting, sculpture and film. The Hindutva groups have never advocated women being forced to stay at home or cover themselves. So when you refer to people equating the two, you are speaking of either extremely ignorant or very motivated, conniving individuals.

Anonymous said...


Mr. Kanade
a strong believer in the richness of Hindutva = BRAHMIN

Hindutva is the modern post industrial revision for Sanatan Dharma and the pre-industrial Maratha nationalism.

Chandru K look at your comrades. Go ahead with your hinduism in danger rhetoric and you ll soon have manusmriti demanding your buttocks to chopped off because you sat on a brahmins seat.

Yes Mr. Kanade I am sure Sanatan Dharma does not subscribe to Manusmriti (or does it?) but it does believe in Shastras doesn't it?

Pray tell us about your opinion about Chatur Varna Dear. Mr. Kanade if you are a proud Sanatani Dharmic

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid modern India, in parts, resembles the Wiemar republic .
The latter was succeeded by National Socialists ( more popularly referrred to as Nazis). I only hope that something like that doesn't happen to India.

Chandru K said...

"I only hope that something like that doesn't happen to India."

At this very moment, the ones using violence to obtain power or overthrow the existing order of things, are the Naxalites and the Kashmiri terrorists. So I take it you are referring to them. Certainly, none of them state "We are struggling for more democracy, freedom, secularism, openness and pluralism than what currently exists in India" That's the last thing on their minds.

Anonymous said...

No...I'm referring to the bhadralok of the old money and the new money. The types who wine and dine away oblivious to the milling poverty, rampant corruption and sycophancy.. the types who flaunt their skin and money to evoke jealousy among the beholders..the decadence of Bombay and Bollywood....the decay of the environment....the excesses of the liberals and the socialites. More importantly the absence ( or rather the silence) of the straightjackets....scenes straight from the Weimar republic.

Anonymous said...

News item in

"Upscale areas in Bombay now have 15-ft-high walls"....

Free country eh...the toffs are prisoners in their own homes.

Anonymous said...

The gated Weimar republics of Bombay, Dilli, Calcutta, Bangalore , Madras and Hyderabad seem to think that they are safe from the forces buffeting India. They are wrong

Anonymous said...

News item in"PM's 'new vision' to make government perform"

My foot...trouble is only yhe PM is interested in performance, the rest of his cabinet and his party are satisfied just clinging onto power

Nikhil said...

My foot...trouble is only yhe PM is interested in performance, the rest of his cabinet and his party are satisfied just clinging onto power

Agree with Anon here. But is the PM truly interested in performance? It is indeed a sad comedown for this man. I had a lot of respect for him and beleived he truly had a vision for India.
Please note during the first anniversary of 26/11, he is flying off to the US instead of coming down to Bombay and observing the anniversary. It only shows how much he cares about his own country.
Contrast this with how the American president observed the first anniversary of 9/11.

Anonymous said...

Nationalism was anathemic to the Weimar liberals....only that National Socialists approppriated it and the results are there to see for all.

The venerable Sardar is no better than the reckless Weimar neocracy

Anonymous said...

Extract of Suhashini Haider's account , in IBN Live, of life aboard Air India One and on the prospect of accompanying the PM on his current trip to White House.

"...of driving up right to your plane, of cavernous legroom, of flowing champagne and caviar."

"think of all the gossip! And as we stop in Geneva overnight- the gossip gets more delicious over cheese fondue and crème Brule".

I mean they are in it for themselves isn't it.

Air India One and Air India cattle class are planets apart, mate...just like Lutyens Delhi and Aragandanallur...

Only consolation for Aragandanallur is that Kasab and Co may not ever visit it.

Anonymous said...

gossip over cheese fondue and crème Brule...

I have nothing against cheese fondue and creme Brule...but throw in the gossip and that were the whole affair turns poisonous.

Chandru said...

Invoking the Weimar republic, Nazism or genocide, shows a huge degree of alienation from Indian culture and history, a lack of understanding and sympathy for Indians, and a basic absence of awareness of the essential goodness of Indians. A goodness, depsite occasional nasty flare-ups( themselves responses to violence of disaffected groups), that will prevent any third reich type government from coming into power in India. Indians simply lack that combination of nastiness, resoluteness, military style iron discipline and desire for global conquest, that characterised the Nazis.

Anonymous said...'re right upto a point, we certainly lack resoluteness and discipline...orelse we would not have become hostages to ISI in our own homes....and to corruptuion, Bollywood, this crop of politicians etc

Anonymous said...

Now this is funny...

Union minister of seeds and fertiliser Azhagiri ( being a Tamilian myself I insist on the 'z') of the DMK was absent in the House when questions were raised, by the opposition, regarding the situation with seeds availablity in the country especially in Punjab, Rajasthan and UP.

The minister was absent. Apparently he is still waiting for a decision from the Speaker reg. his petition to speak in Tamil in the Parliament.

Well.. the minister is not just epected to address Tamil Nadu farmers but those of the whole of the Union of India. His reply in Tamil will leave most of the MPs in the house scrathing their heads. He has to aleast speak in English if not in Hindi.

I mean a minister should be able to communicate with atleast 80% of the House. Or maybe he knew that he could not communicate with the rest of the MPs. Maybe that's why he prefers to stay away from the House.

In that case the blame should be on venerable Sardar for forming such a dysfunctional cabinet.

Anonymous said...

For some reason my thoughts turned tonight to our dear friends Daphne and Juergen. We met in Belgium, visited them often in Germany, and had Daphne over to see our part of Canada. What beautiful people, what loving parents, and what fun loving friends. How we miss you. Rest well.