Remembering 26/11

I’m not very good at remembering dates, usually – I forget what date it is unless I am writing an official letter to someone, I forgot to wish A on his birthday this year because I just had a complete black out when I woke up…but last year this day has been on my mind all day. Bojjandi was a newborn, less than 2 months old, dad was out of town, and we were all staying at my parents’ place, grandma included, when mom switched to a news channel and we sat, horrified, for the next few days as the crazy, nightmarish events unfolded on national television. It was horrific, it was tragic…and it was unnecessary.

Delhi, where I live, has been the target of terrorist attacks for years now, since the Punjab terrorism began all those years back. I remember, back in 1992, one of my classmates from the South came to Delhi for a vacation and two of us picked him up from the station. We got onto a DTC bus and he was startled to see a sign saying “Watch out for unidentified packages. There could be a bomb. Raise alarm. Earn reward.” He was so shocked and frightened to see such a sign and face the possibility of a terrorist attack on an everyday means of transport that for the rest of the journey back to our house, he kept peeking underneath the seats in front of and behind ours, hoping o unidentified packages lurked there. Today, terrorist activity has become so widespread in the country that police barricades, sandbag barriers and all manner of security checks, from frisking to electronic detectors, have become commonplace at every movie we go to watch, every mall we visit, even ordinary neighbourhood markets.

But one of the reasons that 26/11 really scared me – no, I’m not a habitué of the Taj or the Trident, so it’s not that it touched ‘people like me’ – was that these armed men, a mere handful of them, were able to hold the country hostage, literally take over key points within a city and hold off trained armed forces for days, and indulge in massive carnage in the duration. Nowhere else has one seen such a situation except in a war, for example the Blitz, that a whole city is held hostage and people are scared to venture out of their homes. The last time something like this must have happened in India must have been the Blackout during the indo-Pak war.

How on earth did our security forces not manage to raise an alarm in advance? What kind of intelligence were they collecting? Why did the MSG take so long to even reach the site? Why did no one from the Central Government seem to take charge of anything, be it taking strategic decisions on rescuing the hostages or deciding to wall off the media so that vital information regarding the plans of our defending forces were not made available real time to the terrorists? Why did the media not have the common sense to make delayed broadcasts so as to ensure the safety of the poor hostages trying to escape? Why did our local police not have adequate equipment including working flak jackets? Why did the police leaders in the city decide to plunge into the fray, without adequate information about what exactly was going on, rather than be part of the strategic planning for the invasion by the NSG?

These are questions to which no one has been able to give a satisfactory answer so far. The so-called spirit of Mumbai – I don’t know whether it’s something to be celebrated or regretted. First of all, to a large extent the so-called Spirit of Mumbai or Delhi is nothing but pure economic necessity – millions of people won’t get a square meal or be able to feed their children if they don’t stick to their daily work schedule, terrorist attack or not. The Indian State is not a welfare state, and won’t even bother to organize soup kitchens for potential evacuees, should they be in the position of needing to evacuate people from their homes. Moreover, should people really get back to life as usual or should they ‘rage against the dying of the light’ and keep the anger and the need for accountability alive? Should they not remember the events and rather than just mourning, get angry and demand both answers and responsiveness and improvements? It’s very easy to sweep such events under the carpet of our consciousness and go back to our normal routines once the media circus is over. It’s much harder for us to protest and keep protesting until something is done - but that’s what is really the need of the day.

And the last thing - I am not expressing solidarity for the citizens of Mumbai/ Mumbaikers today. What happened last year was not an attack on one city but on my country. It was an attack on India. More - it was an attack on all free citizens of every country round the world. I am expressing solidarity for every citizen of India and every citizen of the world who has ever faced a threat from people who believe that might is right, and that there should be only one way of thinking. I can't put it better than John Donne - "No man is an island. Therefore send not to ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee."


Anonymous said…
Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!
bird's eye view said…
Thanks so much - it's very encouraging to hear that

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