It was a time of war, it was a time for heroism. It was a time to stand up and be counted. In neighbourhoods across Mumbai, the people quietly made the necessary preparations. True, the old and infirm and those who lacked heart advised caution, urging their children to stay at home, out of harm’s way. But the vast majority ignored the safe option, pointing out that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Some mothers clung to their sons, sobbing. But they gently disengaged themselves with the words, “Potius mori quam foedari.” Then, seeing their mothers’ jaws drop, they patiently explained that it was Latin for ‘Death before Dishonour’. “Sounds classier in Latin,” they said. One of them drew attention to the fact that cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste death but once.
Others pressed them to be careful. Some offered crash helmets. “You would look nice with a bullet-proof jacket,” fathers advised their daughters. Prudent parents wanted their kids to arm themselves. “The least you can do is carry a bazooka. And if you have to go to the danger zone, why don’t you do so in armoured cars?” said a worried aunt. But they resolutely refused all weapons, saying that an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.
In other parts of the city, councils of war were being held. One of their leaders said that this was their tryst with destiny. “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties,” he said, “and so bear ourselves that, if the Shiv Sena lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
Questions of strategy and tactics were debated. One of them said that according to Sun Tzu, the Chinese author of Art of War, all war is deception. Instead of making a frontal attack on the police in the war zone, would it not be better to disguise themselves as vada pav vendors and, at the right moment, fling off their disguise and pelt the movie-goers with vadas, asked one of them.
A veteran pointed out that the Roman dramatist Terence had said that fortune favours the brave. Another said that when engaged in combat, the vanquishing of the enemy can be the warrior’s only concern. Somebody asked him whether he was quoting Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist. No, he said shamefacedly, the quote was from the movie Kill Bill. He was told to shut up. Another chap who urged the others to read Che Guevara’s book on guerrilla warfare was sat upon. It was then that their leader made his famous speech. “We shall not flag or fail,” he said, “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in the multiplexes. We shall fight in the single halls and in the malls. We shall never surrender.” And then he asked them to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.
Meanwhile, the gallant people boldly trooped out of their homes into the streets and to the movie-halls, fearlessly bought tickets for My Name is Khan, audaciously went in and valiantly watched the movie, braving the barbarian hordes baying at the gates. One of them said later that never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal