Thursday, November 27, 2008

Home is burning!!!


I was born in a Mumbai hospital in 1982. I have lived my entire life in Mumbai. It is my home. About 25 hours ago my city was a victim to coordinated terrorist attacks at ten popular locations. A tragedy that has left over 100 dead and 300 plus injured - some of them critically. They came with AK-47s and grenades with an aim to die and to take with them as many as possible. Except - they are going to very different places. Immediately after I heard of the attacks, I called my friends back home to check if they were fine. They were going about their usual day and upon hearing of the attacks, they rushed into the conflict regions and hospitals to offer help and to donate blood. Rushed into... The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They are my friends, innocent Mumbaikars, law enforcement officers and my kin.

Have I told you how beautiful Mumbai is? It is an island city on the west coast of India. It is the biggest, most glamorous and the richest city in India. But you can read all that there is about Mumbai and still never quite grasp its essence. To know Mumbai truly, you need to have lived there for a long time - lived through its pain and joys, through its struggles and its triumphs. For those who are born in Mumbai, it is not just their city. Mumbai is the skeletal framework of your personality. It is an inherent part of who you are and what you become to be. It is reflected in the way you frame your words, it is reflected in the way - you tackle challenges, it is reflected in the way you smile and it is reflected on how soon you stand back - if you were to fall. Mumbai is the land of dreams - it is where thousands of people come every week to seek their fortunes. It is the commercial - cultural and entertainment capital of India. It is a city that never sleeps. It is a city of lights.

There is a pride we take in Mumbai that comes from deep love - that comes from looking forward to the future - that comes from the glow of a million dreams and that stems from Mumbai's sky-high ambitions. There is a spirit in its wind - a music to its sound - there is a rhythm in its crowd and a thrill in its pace. In Mumbai - you never stop - bombs - floods - strikes - riots - when its done - you step out - you check your watch - you check the next train - and you move on - you NEVER stop. What would begin for you as a mindless ritual - soon becomes the most wise course of action - and one of the most profound truths of life - that no matter what the set backs, moving forward is the only sensible thing to do. That work indeed is the best antidote to sorrow.

I was too young when the city was attacked in December '93 - too young to understand what was going on. My parents kept me safe in the house. In a sense it is these ordinary families that keep Mumbai running. Sticking to a most simple code - my parents insisted, I always complete my homework - that I always play fair - and make friends no matter what the persons religion. I am a Hindu - I was educated in a Catholic school and have had plenty of close friends -Muslims and Christians alike. I grew up celebrating Diwali, Christmas and Eid with equal enthusiasm. And so I do not understand why would someone want to hurt such an admirable people on the basis of religion.

Over the years, Mumbai nurtured me - made my career possible and exposed me to information and experiences, without which - I can not imagine life as it is. On days when things did not go my way and life seemed miserable, I would retreat to Marine Drive - and sit by the sea - listening to the certainty of its waves until daylight faded away and I could see city lights gleaming over the water. And so the city has known me - more intimately than any person - Mumbai - has been my best friend and confidant. And it has never failed to lift my spirits. Slowly but surely as I would stand at the train door of the last north bound local - the rhythmic sound of train wheels and track changes - would work its healing powers and restore me - for another day to fight.

In the phone conversations I have had over the past few hours, as me and my friends have tried to comfort each other - there has been a uniform sentiment of being fed up with violent conflicts. Alas! If only the world were a perfect place. But its not. And so long as Mumbai remains India's crown jewel - it will with equal certainty stay a prime target. A friend asked - what CAN we do? To which I said, keep doing what you are doing. Except do it a little better - work a bit harder. There is an infinite capacity in the will of a people. And Mumbai has proven its will many times. It is this 'Never Let Go' spirit that gets imbibed in each individual - and so when a person leaves Mumbai, he carries with him an inner strength - that is capable of seeing him through the most difficult of times.

You see a girl or a young woman - free in her spirit and confident in her smile. A girl who knows the lyrics of 'Vande Mataram' as surely as 'Hips don't lie' - she is signature Mumbai. And so, to the women of Mumbai I say

"I admire your gumption. I adore and enormously respect your values. I think you are the loveliest that India has to offer and I am one hundred percent fida on your beauty. I will probably marry one of you - I would be honored to. When this ordeal has subsided - as you step out your house - dress a little prettier - and smile a little more eager. Despite the grief - I need to see your face calm - despite the scars, I need to see your smile. There is nothing that hits the morale of a people more - than to see its women in worry. And so, I need you to stand stronger - aim higher and voice your opinions louder.

You see a man confident and smart. A person who excels under pressure - and achieves his goals in a certain but casual assurance. Chances are he is from Mumbai. To the spunkiest of the youth, to the alpha males of my country, my brothers, I say ..

"I owe you everything. From educating me with that first Blue Film to making me hardy through street fights. I will never forget the lessons you have taught nor be cavalier in keeping your pride. I can feel the pain in your pulse and my blood boils along side yours at the atrocities of yesterday. Yet, when you get to work, I need you to focus better than ever before. As you walk outside on a new morning, I need you to walk a little straighter, speak a little calmer yet remain eternally on fire - to get things done - that need to get done. I am confident in your intent and I am inspired by your actions.

To the mindless, irrational terrorists, I say ..

"You may have trained in the most extreme hatred of Jihad - and I know you are prepared to die. Yet - I assure you - to night my hatred for your ideology will stand any weapon you can throw at me. I promise you - you will never succeed - I want to inform you - I am more fearless than I was before. I want to tell you - I will never ever back down. And lastly I am not ready to die - unless I have killed the very ideas you stand for. That I will accept any consequences of my actions against you - that I will fight this fight with intelligence and a commitment that you can never dream of. That you will find the most ordinary person in my country - your worst enemy.

To the brave NSG and cops who are battling the odds - there is nothing I can say - that will be enough.

'I am forever indebted to your sacrifice. You have my most sincere reverence and that I applaud your courage. That I will think of you whenever I think of the nobel - and I promise you - your names will never be forgotten.

To the brave hearts that were forever lost ... 'Rest in peace my friends.

The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight......


- Sanket

'Bombay is a bird of gold.' A man living in a slum, without water,
without toilets, was telling me why he came here, why people continue
to come here. In the Bayview Bar of the Oberoi Hotel you can order a
bottle of Dom PĂ©rignon for one and a half times the average annual
income, this in a city where forty per cent of the houses lack safe
drinking water. Another man put it differently: 'Nobody starves to
death in Mumbai.' He was being very literal. People are still starving
to death in other parts of India. In Bombay, there are several hundred
slimming clinics. According to a dietician who operates one of them,
fashionable models are on the verge of anorexia. This is how
Bombayites know they've parted company with the rest of India. 'In any
class of society in Bombay,' explains the dietician, 'there are more
people wanting to lose weight than put on weight.'

Bombay is the biggest, fastest, richest city in India. It is Bombay
that Krishna could have been describing in the Tenth Canto of the
Bhagavad Gita, when the god manifests himself in all his fullness:

I am all-destroying death
And the origin of things that are yet to be . . .
I am the gambling of rogues;
the splendour of the splendid.


Excerpt from Maximum City - by Suketu Mehta.

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Anonymous said...

Sanket...this is so heart warming...didnt know u were so good with words...
I reciprocate exactly the same feelings...Cheers to Mumbai! - Ananya

Anonymous said...

its sad indeed! I know how u must be feeling sitting here worried about family and frnds ... and also worried about future of our country. If its mumbai today, it can be any other city tomm. Hope and pray there is an end to this :( -Niru

Sanket Korgaonkar said...

Thank you Ananya, Niru. It is great to hear from you. I hope you join the initiative that I talk about in the post "Answer me" ( - I'm tired of just writing and talking - we got to do something - this is my simple effort of making a change, it will become more and more effective as more and more people join in.


- Sanket

Veena Kumar said...

I was moved to tears as I read this. I was not born in Mumbai but I felt the pain as you did when Mumbai was on Fire; When my country wept in horror. And I'm sure that each word you had addressed towards the terrorists echo in the heart of every Indian... And would NOT just die down.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sanket,

You are simply superb !!
It was great to read poignant article dedicated to Mumbaikars. I share
same feeling for Marine Drive. The rocks on the Queen's Necklace are
witness of all good and bad times of my life including my joy when I got
my US visa :)

I have been through terror strike on local trains and the rainy day of
26th July. Hats off to the spirit of Mumbaikars.
Missing Mumbai a lot.

Thanks to Akshata who included me below cc list.

Jai Hind !!

- Anushka Lad

Anonymous said...


Great piece. It is your being Mumbaikar that first took me to your blog.

i witnessed the 1993 riots. Heard the screams of people being attacked one night and even the pillow on my hears could not shut out the sounds.

Let us bridge the barriers now instead of creating more divides.

My cousin is a doc in Bombay hospital and is treating cops from smoke inhalation injuries.
He says the stories are horrifying from patients and the figure is much higher.

But let us stand united and not talk anymore about the spirit of Mumbai. Pass the word around and continue the momentum for peace. Mumbai was my home till I left in 1991 and I still speak Marathi though am Keralite.

Today was white shirt day in Dubai to show solidarity with the victims in Mumbai. smsed and got positive answers from not just indians but also Jordanians, Sri Lankans and Brits.

Hold strong and tall Indians. We dont need religious divide anymore - just a greater need to act as responsible citizens who also get involved in grass root changes.

Sanket Korgaonkar said...

Hey Sona,

First of all thank you for taking the time to read. Second of all I don't think talking about the spirit of Mumbai creates divides - in fact not talking about it - deprives me of my chance to console my people - and I am not willing to relinquish that.

I have written this piece as a healing touch to the people of my city - who are hurting very bad right now. Another place, another time, I may be more receptive to what you may be trying to say - but right now my heart is torn and my eyes are crying blood. I'm sorry my friend. But, I wont stop talking about Mumbai - nor should I have to.

What I fail to understand is this:- "Why does taking pride in Mumbai or loving Mumbai - by extension mean - I don't take pride in India? or love my nation less??? - I find fault with that formula. It should not mean so - just like - me disagreeing with you - should not by extension mean - you are wrong.

And lastly, I do realize the need for us to unite as a nation and not remain Mumbaikars and Banglorians etc - it is with that view that I started the 'One letter a week' initiative that I speak of in the article 'Answe Me' - anyone and everyone is free to join that initiative and it is not restricted to Mumbaikars.

I wanted to write this post because some of my friends who aren't from Mumbai - have had a reaction like - "Oh! Its just Mumbai being bombed - it keeps happening in Mumbai - its no big deal.

or "What do you guys like in Mumbai anyways, there is pollution and traffic - hated it when I moved here

I wanted to tell these people what Mumbai means to me - and to its residents - that it is not a mere city to us. That we love each street - every train, every shop and sign like we love a treasured object of our homes. That the multiplexes scarred- the bullet holes in cafe windows are not mere buildings and glass - it is where we have grown up. It is where a friend proposed his girl to marry him. It is where we had the time of our life while bunking lectures to catch movies. That any harm to anything in Mumbai, living or alive is a direct assault on us.

Some have claimed that the so called Mumbai Spirit - is not spirit at all - it is people being apathetic. To which I disagree so much, that if those commentators were present in front of me - I would slap them senseless. People in my city have rushed into hospitals for blood to the point where the hospitals had to turn away people. People are buying food and other necessities for complete strangers - connected by nothing else than the bond we share with each other as being from the same city.

The Leopold Cafe which was the first target of these terror attacks is the best example. Its staff was asking the question - "When are we opening again" by Thursday itself. They have stayed day and night to fix the scars - clean the floors and get the place spic and span - and open for business in 3 days!!! A video of Leopold Cafe will show you how normal it looks today - you would have no idea - that it was a terrorist ravaged spot less than a week ago. Others have waited in line, waited impatiently to get back in the cafe since it has opened up for business.

Mumbai Spirit gets talked about so much, because we love our city so much. I love India so much because of Mumbai. This piece was written to heal my brethren and I apologize to anyone who feels being divided or cut off because of it - but in all honesty, I can not and will not stop talking about Mumbai.

My national effort is being propelled elsewhere - ( - this article though - is dedicated to Mumbaikars.

To wipe their tears and tell them "Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yaha - Jara has ke - Jara bach ke - Yeh hai Mumbai meri Jaan!!

- Sanket

Anonymous said...

Very well put!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Sanket

I have lived in Mumbai and I hurt being in Dubai.

People who responded to the white shirt for solidarity to Mumbai victims included Rasem Badran, one of the most renowned architects in jordan, who has won an Aga Khan award for architecture. He smsed me from Amman - his horror - so I vote him a Mumbaikar and a good human.

I think we need to get a bit of perspective here. I also vote Sandeep Unnikrishnan, a Malu, who lived in Bangalore, was in the Bihar regiment and died rescuing Jews - a Mumbaikar.

Sanket, I wish you wrote our Mumbai.

My opinion to your blog was spontaneous and had nothing to do with why Mumbai, why not India and so on or even your writing. It is about being part of an us and them scenario which is slowly taking a grip of India.

I wrote on so many sites my views and dont even remember what they were, i had so many discussions at my newspaper, i watched tv so much including the Pak channels (to see what they feel) and dream of the telecasts at night.

It is not about you being wrong or me right or even my feedback to your writing this time. It was just what I felt - the same shock for Bangalore when they had the blasts or Delhi bazaar or all the other areas. Mumbai was the most horrific but pls remember that it started with the razing of the Babri Masjid somewhere else, which was the spark needed for such people to start their movement. followed by Bombay blasts, then Bombay riots, then --------

Just a series of an eye for eye and tooth for tooth.

What i wrote was about Mumbai, but also about not getting the mindset of the terrorist and becoming him.

When the Jew rabbi at Chabad House was asked his opinion on terrorists targetting Jews, he softly said - "but they are also attacking the Taj and that is not full of Jews." That is the spirit of Mumbai - embracing not dividing. National need not be another blog. Make that here.

This is about the momentum for peace.


Sanket Korgaonkar said...

Dear Sona,

I think we finally understand each other. Let me say first - you were right, I was wrong. If my reply seemed to alienate people who felt just as strongly about Mumbai and about India, let me assure you - it was not my intent. However, reading it again and placing myself in your shoes, I agree - it certainly appears to be selfish and self centered. A tragedy of the sorts that we have seen requires and mandates that we rise above this. You are right in what you say, and I did not - and for that I take complete responsibility and you (and others) have my deepest apologies.

Mumbai does not belong to just people who are born there - it belongs to every single person who comes there chasing his dreams. It is a city that will take in everyone. And it is exactly the ability of Mumbai and its residents to accommodate people from all parts of India that has made the city a success.

What I was trying to say - was that the intent of the home burning article was different. The intent of "Answer Me" is what you are asking for. I am sure if you read that piece you will understand me better.

And yes, it is OUR Mumbai - of course it is!


- Sanket

Anonymous said...

Dear Sanket,

When I watched all Pak TV channels, they stand united suddenly and are ready to put aside all tribal differences and relocate their forces to the border.

When I watch Indian channels Zee, NDTV, Star and Asianet - the blame game has started.

The truth is that more than a security lapse, there was a lapse of security in showing a live telecast during hostage rescue till Day 3 where the feed was delayed by 15 minutes.

There was media irresponsibility in Barkha asking Sabina Saikia's husband where exactly she was in the Taj and how long she smsed him.
I was speechless at her need to get an exclusive over protecting an innocent from being tracked down.

One more quote - the spirit of Mumbai is its Muslims who refused to bury the terrorists in their burial grounds. Bravo.

One of my ex-colleagues Dave Reeder, who is Brit and lives in Dubai wrote these beautiful lines in Facebook.

Dave believes that terrorism brings us closer together. we were all new yorkers, then all londoners, now we all claim mumbai as our home.

we are one.

Ok you xyz - your blog got the most of my pain...


Parth J Dave said...

Moved me to tears...

Every word of yours pains and creates hatred not only for those terrorists, but also for those bloody politicians...!!!

Great work, dude...

This article of yours should decorate every student's textbook...!!!

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