Friday, November 28, 2008

Lost for words

A lot has been said (in print and on the telly) about the latest from Bombay. I started writing this post filled with a sense of what I would call 'frustrated anger' (?) at what was happening to the 'city of my youth', as my fellow Campionite Rajdeep Sardesai called it. It's a different story that I was driving in the mountains around the Asheville area, far away from any news-source, and I was on 'simmer mode' all the way on the I-26 and the SC-25. Anger at the people behind the attacks, and frustration at the political elite for obvious reasons. Over the three days the saga played out, I think a more rational outlook on things emerged in my head. I have been lucky not to know of any friends who lost their lives or those of their near and dear ones (touchwood), and am thankful to the "Great Umpire" up there for not raising His dreaded finger. My father was to have stayed at the Taj starting Thursday, but the meeting was canceled! (Note: He used to stay at the Oberoi, but moved out since there were rumors floating around about residents using the premises for questionable purposes

Bombay was home to me for 15 years. When I was three, and I was staying with my grandparents (while Achan set up house in Bombay), Bombay was some magical place in my mind - the proverbial city of dreams. I left in 1998 (from VT; not CST), without bidding it a proper farewell, with the thought that I'd always be back for one more tango. The sad part is that I never went back for more than a weekend, save for a month in the summer of 2001, when I interned with Hindustan Lever at their Sewri factory. For reasons I cannot explain, with every visit back I just felt that the city had changed so much. To draw cliched analogy, it was catching up an old crush - you wonder how it all changed so much and whether it was for the best.

I have walked the streets where it all unfolded god knows how many times. The Taj and Oberoi were hangouts reserved for times when folks visited from the US (and from the mid 90s, my father's chosen hotels when he was in Bombay for meetings), while (all said and done) Leopold was a "
slightly shady, downmarket eatery patronised by hippies and harlots" (Vinod Mehta could not have put it better!). Colaba was my neck of the woods, and it felt strange to see so many places I have known so well become terror targets. The Metro theater (now called Metro AdLabs, and thankfully restored to its old glory) was where we often watched movies in school, and ate pizzas from "Intermission" (not sure if it still exists). I do admit that I still am lost as to the exact location of the Nariman House/Jewish Center, but do know that it's somewhere in the vicinity of Colaba Market/Pasta Lanes - I just cannot remember which buildings lie on that road or some friend/acquaintance who lives there (which is often how many of us identify streets and apartment complexes)!

A million questions have been asked, and the wise (wo)men have put forward their own theories. I can only pray and hope that good sense prevails (both amongst the powers that be and the seemingly powerless citizens) and the right moves are made to safeguard the common man, who invariably is the victim of these incidents. Rational thinking is probably the need of the hour, and unfortunately some politicians have resorted to their usual tricks of shooting from the hip, which I think has been shameful. People talk endlessly about the resilience of the people of Bombay, but I think that streak is present in people everywhere, be it NYC, London, Madrid, Bali or even the tsunami-affected areas. It's probably just plain human nature, and not the greatness of the people from one city or another - I guess folks will disagree with me on this one.

Last but not the least, I must acknowledge some folks whose blogs/photos kept me 'in the loop' with their perspectives on the events. I don't mean to sound parochial, but one often tends to relate to the words/sights/sounds of the 'sons of the soil' - they tell it from an angle that seems so familiar.
Amit Varma and his four year old baby "India Uncut"
Prem Panicker and his "Smoke Signals"
Vinu Kumar Ranganathan's Online Cloud and Flickers (of Hope)
Dr. Arun Shanbhag, a fellow Colaba-wallah and Clemson-wallah, one level ahead of me on the Dr. Jonathan Black research tree.

Note: Usual disclaimers apply for this post. I don't mean to sound like a pundit, and write this as an anguished Indian, wondering why this keeps happening to his 'hometown'. A lot of folks from South Mumbai would probably feel the same.

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