Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hit but standing tall
Amita MalikAmita Malik

THOSE of us who lived through the Partition riots had always believed that we could see nothing worse. The massacres in Mumbai were not on the same scale but just as upsetting because, being in a more restricted area familiar to us, they hit one where it hurt the most. It is a city where many of us have spent among the best parts of our personal and professional lives.

It was leading its relaxed, cosmopolitan existence when suddenly, out of the blue, it was being put to the sword by what seemed to be mindless brutes. Many of us had friends and relatives there, and the needless death of our colleague, Sabina Sehgal Saikia, leaving behind a shattered husband and two small kids, brought despair right into our homes. Perhaps the most poignant remark was made by her son: "My mother was killed, but so were many others. So I suppose it is not so bad". A philosophical observation coming from someone so young left us even more shattered.

Despite the terrorist attack, the Taj retains its glory
Despite the terrorist attack, the Taj retains its glory

The individual instances were bad enough. But having lived near the Taj Hotel when I was young and newly married, it had special significance for us. It seemed that like the Everest, it would always be there, that it was indestructible. It lifted one’s heart. The Taj continues to stand solid like a rock. Its interiors have been damaged, and in some places splattered with blood. But outside it stands, to repeat the phrase since one can take it literally, rock solid.

Ratan Tata, for whom it is one of his most cherished landmarks, saw to it that the National Flag flew at half-mast, and proudly after it was all over. There were other touches which were typically Mumbai. The Fishermen’s Union not only noting the coming in of RDX but also warning the government in writing. A warning which was characteristically ignored, as was a crucial 24-hour warning to the Coast Guards.

Our bureaucracy is bad enough, but when it comes to professional organisations doing the same, they really cannot be forgiven. As for guarding our coastline, it will again be one of those too little, too late cases. It has only now dawned on the authorities that it is foolish to base our elite NSG in the Capital, and to have it flown into other crises spots.

It did not even have a plane standing by but had to wait for one to be flown in from Chandigarh. This was a criminal waste of time, which led to loss of many precious lives. For us columnists, it was a question of how it was covered by the media. I think the media rose to the occasion, and still before our eyes is that image of young journalists lying on the ground, including camerapersons, and risking their lives to let us see it all.

The papers the next day had details of when and how people, some of whom we knew, were killed. It made a horrifying picture, especially the one of a young infant, whose parents were killed but who was mercifully spared, being held in his arms by an elderly patriarch. Flashing the picture of his young parents almost simultaneously brought the tragedy even nearer. There were so many tragedies even on the streets, let alone elite hotels and bars.

The beautiful city of Mumbai had, indeed, been held to ransom. We were all poorer because of it. In this sort of mindless violence, someone has to steady us by speaking up. One must express gratitude to Prannoy Roy, who brought us words of anger as well as courage by his memorable comments under backdrop "Enough is enough". They were timely and expressed what everyone felt about the whole sorry situation.