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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