Terrorizing World – "Enough is enough"

Time to ACT tough . Now !

Mumbai: MY bleeding city

Posted by :) on December 1, 2008


MY bleeding city. My poor great bleeding heart of a city. Why do they go
after Mumbai? There’s something about this island-state that appalls
religious extremists, Hindus and Muslims alike. Perhaps because Mumbai stands
for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate openness.

Mumbai is all about dhandha, or transaction. From the street food vendor
squatting on a sidewalk, fiercely guarding his little business, to the
tycoons and their dreams of acquiring Hollywood, this city understands money
and has no guilt about the getting and spending of it. I once asked a Muslim
man living in a shack without indoor plumbing what kept him in the city.
“Mumbai is a golden songbird,” he said. It flies quick and sly, and you’ll
have to work hard to catch it, but if you do, a fabulous fortune will open up
for you. The executives who congregated in the Taj Mahal hotel were chasing
this golden songbird. The terrorists want to kill the songbird.

Just as cinema is a mass dream of the audience, Mumbai is a mass dream of the
peoples of South Asia. Bollywood movies are the most popular form of
entertainment across the subcontinent. Through them, every Pakistani and
Bangladeshi is familiar with the wedding-cake architecture of the Taj and the
arc of the Gateway of India, symbols of the city that gives the industry its
name. It is no wonder that one of the first things the Taliban did upon
entering Kabul was to shut down the Bollywood video rental stores. The
Taliban also banned, wouldn’t you know it, the keeping of songbirds.

Bollywood dream-makers are shaken. “I am ashamed to say this,” Amitabh
Bachchan, superstar of a hundred action movies, wrote on his blog. “As the
events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I did something for the
first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do.
Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver, loaded
it and put it under my pillow.”

Mumbai is a “soft target,” the terrorism analysts say. Anybody can walk into
the hotels, the hospitals, the train stations, and start spraying with a
machine gun. Where are the metal detectors, the random bag checks? In Mumbai,
it’s impossible to control the crowd. In other cities, if there’s an
explosion, people run away from it. In Mumbai, people run toward it – to
help. Greater Mumbai takes in a million new residents a year. This is the
problem, say the nativists. The city is just too hospitable. You let them in,
and they break your heart.

In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a
hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood
star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have
changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the
streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and
Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want
India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples
bombed.

And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbors, young men
dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer T-shirts. Being
South Asian, they would have grown up watching the painted lady that is
Mumbai in the movies: a city of flashy cars and flashier women. A
pleasure-loving city, a sensual city. Everything that preachers of every
religion thunder against. It is, as a monk of the pacifist Jain religion
explained to me, “paap-ni-bhoomi” : the sinful land.

In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets – for the crime of
being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people in front
of their families – for the crime of visiting Mumbai. They attacked the
luxury businessmen’ s hotels. They attacked the open-air Cafe Leopold, where
backpackers of the world refresh themselves with cheap beer out of
three-foot-high towers before heading out into India. Their drunken revelry,
their shameless flirting, must have offended the righteous believers in the
jihad. They attacked the train station everyone calls V.T., the terminus for
runaways and dreamers from all across India. And in the attack on the Chabad
house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India.

The terrorists’ message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will get
killed. Cricket matches with visiting English and Australian teams have been
shelved. Japanese and Western companies have closed their Mumbai offices and
prohibited their employees from visiting the city. Tour groups are canceling
long-planned trips.

But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more
money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all
Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just
of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running
water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a
killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the
forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.

If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the explosion.
It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are you going to be
safe? New York? London? Madrid?

So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold,
stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood
movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be just economic.

Suketu Mehta, a professor of journalism at New York University, is the author
of “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.”

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