While shameless politicians sink into ‘Pawar play', Mumbai resurrects like a whistle in the dark
Rupa Gulab Mumbai
I hate to break the Lashkar-e-Taiba's (LeT) pathetic apology for a heart, but facts must be faced: sorry vermin, but life hasn't come to a standstill in Mumbai - so there! People aren't cowering in their homes and hoarsely whispering, "Is it safe to go out?" Less than a week after the terrorist attacks, the city was determinedly on the move again.
While Mumbai is resilient, it is still in mourning. In a show of touching solidarity, celebrations are sombre and muted. Eid was a low key, black arm-band affair, and Christmas and New Year celebrations promise to go the same way. Clubs, local gymkhanas and hotels have agreed to give up their money-spinning events of the year - not just because of security issues but because we're in no mood to party. If Bollywood's popular nautch girls do get their pelvic girdles into a twist on New Year's eve, it will probably be at their own parties. And this is what all Mumbaiites want Santa to deliver on Christmas (apart from peace - and bullet-proof vests and bullet-proof cars for the cops and for ourselves too!): What we really, really want are better parents. Parents who teach their children that while we may pray to different gods, we're all asking for exactly the same things for ourselves, our families and our country.
Perhaps the most reassuring story I've heard of late is about a four-year-old boy. While his family was anxiously glued to the TV screen during the siege, he firmly declared that he was not frightened of ‘silly old terrorists'. His school was shut the next two days, affording him no opportunity to prove that he really meant what he said. On the third day, schools re-opened, but, to his disappointment, he was down with the flu. Yet, he made it a point to categorically inform each and every member of his family that the only reason why he was not going to school was because he was sick, and not because he was scared of ‘silly old terrorists'! Hmm. So much more courageous than Ajmal Amir, the lone caged terrorist, who is now crying for his mummy. Really crying. Delicious! And more than willing to write the following sentence a zillion times: "I was brainwashed and misled by the nastiest, most inhuman living beings on planet earth.' Or words to that effect.
Meanwhile, Mumbai's adults are busy, busy, busy, what with work, recreation, and participating in rallies, marches and human chains in different parts of the city - a bonding exercise to reassure all of us that we have no differences with each other, and that we dislike our politicians just as much as we hate Pakistan's lovingly nurtured terrorists - perhaps even more! Some people are actively involved in citizen's groups, collecting signatures to sue media houses for leaking sensitive information during the siege. Others are creating pressure groups to throw out corrupt politicians: our newly sworn in Deputy Chief Minister, the hon'ble (snigger) Chhagan Bhujbal, heads the eject list.
Oh, there are many more similar activities taking root. Maybe I'm a dreamer, but these ‘coming together' exercises do have the potential to throw up an inspiring new political party. And God knows, we need one! How much longer can we bear to live with the sad, unpalatable choices that are on offer? As I write this, the dust in Maharashtra's political arena is yet to settle: Ashok Chavan was sworn in as the new chief minister and simultaneously sworn at by Narayan Rane, the man who wanted that chair for himself. Battles are being fought, heads are rolling - oh, the usual power play is at work (I say this wearily). And while on the subject of power play, a few words on ‘Pawar play' are in order. NCP president Sharad Pawar was in amazing protection mode (not to protect us, oh no - we are votes, not human beings) - to protect his party's interests in the mad scramble for power. I wonder why he's still in politics, considering that he's going to be president of the crickets' top body, ICC in 2009? Ah yes, I remember: he's there to throw googlies at the Congress party. That's what makes him happiest!
What exactly are former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and deputy chief minister RR Patil up to? Who knows, who cares! Raj Thackeray, our unfriendly neighbourhood trouble-maker, has been strangely silent too. And do not assume that he's still hiding under his bed with shame after the jeering text messages that have been doing the rounds in the city: "Where is Raj Thackeray and his ‘brave' Sena? Tell him that 200 NSG commandoes from Delhi (No Marathi manoos! ALL South & North Indians!) have been sent 2 Mumbai to fight the terrorists so that he can sleep peacefully. Pls fwd ths so tht it finally reaches the coward bully!"
Dream on - he's shameless, that one! The pen is not mightier than the sword in the state of Maharashtra. Raj is afraid of something else. Or rather, someone else: Chhagan Bhujbal, his old-time foe. Sadly, our politicians are evidently more interested in fighting each other than in fighting terrorists.
I also have a sharp rebuke for all the people who sneered that the media paid much more attention to the siege at the 5-Star hotels than to the carnage at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), more popular as VT (Victoria Terminus). Do remember that the attacks on CST and Leopold Cafe began and ended that very night, before we even came to grips with what was happening. The attacks on the hotels and Nariman House continued for the next two days.
I know all of you have read nostalgic essays by ladies who lunch and expense-account fat cats on their fond memories of the Taj. While I do not wish to bore you to tears, I think I should step in with my memories too - just to assure you that the Taj was much, much more than the favourite haunt of the obscenely wealthy. Cash-strapped hostelites like me used to frequent the Shamiana and Sea Lounge (one pot of hot chocolate was lingeringly shared by 10 people - no eyebrows raised). Often, on unbearably sultry days, we'd lounge in the welcoming air-conditioned lobby, chatting, reading or listening to music on our walkmans while waiting longingly for the monsoon. It was glaringly obvious that we weren't guests, but the staff merely grinned at us sympathetically. It was our home away from home as much as it was for the rich and famous of the world.
I sign off on a note of hope. CST and Leopold Cafe are as busy and bustling as ever. The Oberoi will be opening its doors shortly and the Taj opened on December 21. A news report that gave me joy said the following: "...The owners of the Taj Mahal, scene of much of the bloodshed, said they would hold an interfaith prayer ceremony to re-dedicate the building..." The 105-year hotel re-opened with a ceremony performed by Parsi, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Jewish religious leaders.
Now do you still wonder why the Taj is Mumbai's most-loved icon? It constantly reminds us that it stands for all of us. It's just the way India should be. Sigh.