Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai

The AP photo is by Ajit Solanki with the caption Indian Muslims release pigeons during a protest against terrorist attacks in Mumbai, as a placard reads " Kill terror not terrorist " in Ahmadabad, India, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008.

I've spent much of the last few days glued to the computer reading news of the ghastly attacks in Mumbai along with much of the rest of the world. This event has had a hold on me second only, I suppose, to 9/11. I kept wondering why.

Yes, terrorist attacks are horrifying, but I can tune out horrifying news pretty well. In this age of non-stop news, I have to or I think I'd go mad. But this time I just kept reading and watching and, frankly, obsessing. It isn't that I have friends there. Nor have I ever been to Mumbai, much as I would love to.

But here's the thing. Not only do I love my Bollywood movies (many of which take place in wildly idealized versions of Mumbai), I have read more novels than I can count which take place there. I've read about so many of the places mentioned in the news: the Chatrapathi Shivaji Railway Terminus (known by its older name Victoria Terminus in my novels) where dozens were gunned down, Chowpatty Beach where one terrorist was captured and another one killed by police, and Cafe Leopold where the nightmare started. I realize that my armchair travels fail to make me any kind of expert, but they have made a connection and seeing those places I've imagined many times flashed across the news in the most awful way possible just makes my heart break.

I haven't even allowed myself to think much about the killings at Mubai's Chabad House. Even though it's had a Jewish population for centuries, India has historically been one of the few places in the world pretty much free of antisemitism. But now we know that there's yet another place where it's dangerous to be a Jew.

Such appalling news and yet I if someone handed me plane ticket, I'd visit Mumbai in a heartbeat to see for myself all the places I've read and even dreamed about. Because how can we respond to senseless death but to keep on living?

In his November 28 New York Times op-ed piece, Suketu Mehta urges us to do exactly that, to fight the terrorists by visiting Mumbai but, sadly, this isn't in my immediate future. However, if you're interested in a bit of armchair travel to Bombay (for they all use the old name) take a look at some of these:

Such a Long Journey, Family Matters, and (possibly my favorite novel of all time) A Fine Balance, all by Rohinton Mistry.

The Death of Vishnu and The Age of Shiva by Manil Suri

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

The Last Song of Dusk
by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

3 comments:

Ali said...

Miriam loaned me her copy of "A Fine Balance" a couple weeks ago, it's in my (towering) stack of books to read.

RedMolly said...

Thank you for the book inspiration! I, too, have a copy of "A Fine Balance" waiting to be read--I will move it up on the list.

I think there was a particular horror to these attacks because of their personal nature. This was not a faceless bomber blowing up faceless victims; this was an organized and determined squad of killers hunting their quarry down like prey. I can't imagine the terror people must have felt crouching in their rooms at the Taj... or the hatred the terrorists must have felt to keep prowling through the hallways, guns in hand.

All I can do is hope that India's response to this tragedy is wiser, more measured and ultimately more healing than the US' response to 9/11.

ElizO said...

Thanks for the book recommendations. Another thing that I found particularly disturbing about this awful attack was the fact that the terrorist I saw captured in a photo looked so regular. It doesn't make sense that this should freak me out--I know that crazy, sociopathic people can come in all sorts of packages, but I nevertheless didn't expect this guy to look quite so unalarming (aside from the gun in his hands, and presumably the look in his eyes, which didn't come across in the photos).