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Mumbai meri jaan

July 15, 2011

Nothing gets past Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. Immediately after the 13/7 blasts, he told the media that this was a “coordinated attack by terrorists.” He reached this monumental conclusion by inspecting the incidental fact that the blasts happened around the same time! Indians everywhere are feeling proud at having such incisive minds at the helm of affairs.

Many Mumbaikars, in fact, took to the streets to celebrate the nation’s political and executive pantheon.

‘Look here,’ said Pandurang Kamble, a goldsmith’s assistant who works 15 hours a day smelting the precious metal, ‘this is just the third time that Zaveri Bazaar has been blasted into smithereens. I can confirm that because I’ve been working here for 52 years. Only three blasts in that period. I feel lucky to be protected to such an extent from the vagaries of terrorism.’

Sajid Mohammad, who runs a tea-stall in the vicinity of the Siddhivinayak temple in Dadar, not far from the site of one of the blasts, cannot agree more.

‘It takes courage to point out the happy truth at a solemn moment,’ he said as he cleansed used glasses of cutting chai. ‘When the rest of us were grieving over the charred bodies, Chidambaram pointed out that we haven’t had a single blast in 31 months! I tell you, we Indians don’t count our blessings and I’m glad that someone is ready to teach us to do exactly that.’

‘Our security apparatus operates at Six Sigma level,’ added Sahadevan Namboodaripad, a software engineer who recently returned from an onsite stint in Atlanta. ‘Just take the example of this blast. It must have taken, what?, Two and a half seconds for all three blasts to trigger? So the city was unsafe for those two and a half seconds. But, what about the billions of seconds in which Mumbaikars are kept safe? Is anybody counting that? Six Sigma, I tell you.’

Thankfully, Sahadevan’s optimism is not isolated. It finds an echo in Poonam Lakhani, an office assistant who works in Nariman Point.

‘I stay in Vakola. My husband and I are saving for our son’s education, so I avail many modes of transport to reach home. Last evening, as I was about to leave the office, I thought I heard a damp squib go off. People told me that a bomb had exploded outside Opera House. Was I scared? A bit. But then, I remembered the spirit of Mumbai. I walked slowly to Churchgate station. No blast on the way. I caught a slow local to Santa Cruz. No blast inside that either. And then I took a bus to Vakola. Again, no blast. My husband and son were safe, waiting for me. Really, we sometimes miss the forest for the trees. I cannot tolerate those sceptics who point out that 92 blasts have rocked Mumbai in the past 20 years. Hello? Only 2500 people have died so far in all the blasts put together. More people have been electrocuted by naked electrical wires in the same time.’

Harpal Singh was sitting idle inside his taxi when the blast occurred outside Opera House. He knew that the brave rescue efforts of the law-and-order machinery would be hampered by peak traffic conditions. So he ferried the wounded to the closest hospital. Being this close to the epicentre has not shaken his confidence.

‘I’m glad they’ve placed all metros on high alert. You think this is like bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted? What rubbish! You know, I meet pessimists like you every day. I know exactly what you’ll tell me next. That this is an intelligence failure. Let me ask you: can you have a computer failure without a computer? How then can you have an intelligence failure without intelligence? The Home Minister has made it quite clear: we had no prior intelligence on the blasts. And you still want to blame him?’

Indeed, Indians from other places are astounded by the level of trust Mumbai is placing on its security personnel.

‘Tukaram is a hero to me,’ said Victor Rasquinha, pointing to the potbellied constable snoozing under a tree in the Chembur Golf Course area. ‘Don’t go by his 40-inch waistline. The other day, I saw him slap a teenager for not paying a 50-rupee bribe. The boy couldn’t move for five minutes. I daresay he can kill a terrorist with his bare hands. Agreed, he might have trouble chasing him down the street, but that’s what we’re here for.’

Meanwhile, those Mumbaikars who’ve relocated to other parts of the country and the world are feeling jealous.

‘I feel that the whole terrorism thing has added a dimension of excitement to the city,’ said Singapore-based Lakshmi via email. ‘It must be like living on the frontline. You’re tallying accounts in your dinghy office and the smell of gunpowder hangs in the air like the memory of a callous ex-boyfriend. How romantic!’

I, Eshwar Sundaresan, a Mumbaikar in body, mind and soul – a freak who continues to love the city of his childhood and youth – hereby hope that the above article will be used by the ruling coalition during the next elections. Last night, I sat down to dinner, switched on the TV and saw familiar gore on the screen. The morsel in my hand remained suspended for a long time. I then decided to substitute my solid diet for a liquid one. Once I had emptied a tall bottle, these optimistic voices of Mumbai came floating towards me. So they must be true. Just like the competence of this government. Just like the feeling of safety we people in the subcontinent have gotten used to.

 

Eshwar Sundaresan is a writer, freelance journalist, ideator and entrepreneur. His works are Googlable.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.