Standing at Anti-Terrorism Squad Chief Hemant Karkare’s funeral, I was struck by the people who had gathered to pay homage to one of the most upright, secular and committed officers of the Mumbai police. Politicians, college students, leaders of the Muslim community, activists, and other members of the police. And then the questions. Why does it take such an immense tragedy to unite us? Why does this sentiment snuff out seconds after the occasion? What is it in our DNA that allows leaders to walk into our rooms, rape us, leave and come back again when the need arises?
This is the greatest psychological blow that the city has received. People say the country, but I disagree. The fall of the Babri Masjid and the Gujarat riots have left deeper wounds. But as far as Bombay is concerned, 60 hours of television have brought the beginning, middle and end of this tragedy into our living rooms. We have seen guns, shoot-outs, murders, fires, commandos, traumatised survivors and destruction of every kind. And so have our children. My belief still remains that the practical effect of the attacks will be less than the effect that the 1993 and 2006 bombings had on the common Bombayite. Then it was a direct connection to fear: “Should I go back to work in Zaveri Bazaar? “Should I send my children on the trains tomorrow?” Now those fears are more general — anything can happen in this city, be careful. The psyche of Bombay will take a generation to recover.
The success of a terror attack is determined by our response to it. A violent and irrational response means the terrorists have succeeded. A constructive, passionate, unflagging response that results in a safer, better life for Bombayites and for Indians, and we have won the battle. So what is constructive? One million citizens peacefully assembled for the day outside Mantralaya? The crowd would stretch from the sea near the Air India building to Oval Maidan. One demand. Ninety days for the Government of India to come up with an anti-terror plan. A plan that looks at deterrence and preparedness. Ninety days. We overlook for now your neglect of the city. Its floods, its traffic, its filth, its pollution. Just deliver to us a world-standard anti-terrorism plan.
Pakistani terrorists do not equal the Pakistan State. This is not the time to rake up old terrorism/infiltration issues with Pakistan. Let us judge the facts coldly and solely on this attack. If the link goes back to State-sponsored terrorism, then follow all the diplomatic, international and trade sanctions you want. But if there is no incontrovertible link to the Pakistani government then stop Pak-bashing. Understand that that country is fighting a war within — between moderates and extremists, much like parts of this country are too. Remember that the Pakistan President lost his wife to a terror attack planned and executed by Pakistanis.
Indians have to learn from our security forces: the police, the marine commandos, the army and the National Security Guards (NSG). We have to learn to do our duty without the slightest complaint. We have to learn to make sacrifices, of food, sleep, even survival. Listen to how many survivors who tell the tale of an NSG commando shepherding them safely out of the buildings with one laconic sentence of reassurance: “Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to you. If a terrorist fires, I will take the bullet.” We have to learn that the reward for saving countless lives is just that. And half a cup of tea in a tiny white plastic cup that I saw these men joyfully sip at 8.20 am outside the Taj on Saturday morning.
The one square mile that makes up the tourist district of Bombay encompasses the area of my sports-filled childhood, my film-and-girlfriend filled teenage years, my theatre-and-advertising working years up to now. Buying cassettes at Rhythm House. Eating fish’n’chips at Wayside Inn. Performing on stage at the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Getting drunk at Leopolds. Wooing girls at the Taj’s Sea Lounge. Racing cars through Lion’s Gate at night. Rugby at the Bombay Gym. My first film’s (English, August ) premiere was at Regal Cinema. A red carpet went from the road to the hall. My debut directorial venture’s tickets sold at Sterling (‘10 pm crème-de-la-crème show’) for Rs 500.
And then the dome of the Taj burning. A dome I have walked the inside of and have marvelled at its architecture. Burning, burning. Shots, blasts, chatter of guns, explosions. More burning. Shouts, screams, tears, silence. A big hole in the one square mile fabric of my Bombay. A big hole in the heart of India. Love, justice, hard work and memory will repair it. They have to.
Rahul Bose is a Mumbai-based actor