Sunday, November 30, 2008

Terrorist attack on Mumbai

I took the above photo in Mumbai about 5:30 pm on Wednesday, November 26, 2008 -- about four hours before the terrorist attacks began. They are Mahatma Gandhi's words, in his own writing. The quote above bears a Dandi dateline, and says, "I want world sympathy in this battle of Right against Might." The quote below says, "Be truthful, gentle and fearless." Gandhi and his followers walked maybe 145 miles from Sabarmati Ashram, near Ahmedabad, to Dandi, near Surat, to "illegally" make salt as an act of non-violent civil disobedience.

I took the picture for my blog, but never imagined it would be prefacing this:

At about 10:25 pm, when I was at work in my fourth-floor office right across from CST station, we heard commotion in the street below -- explosions and gunfire. From our windows, we heard screams and saw dozens of people running along the kerb and in the suburban platform # 1 (where my train pulls in from Bandra/Andheri every day). One man was running on Platform 1 while carrying another over his shoulders. This may or may not be the same guy. The gunmen were on the foot bridge at the north end of the station that I take every day to cross D. N. Road. After maybe 40 minutes, the attacks ceased.

By this time we knew, of course, that there had been blasts or firing in Colaba, near the Leopold Cafe and the Taj. No one was sure what was going on, though. I went downstairs to check if our security would let in colleagues who were stranded in Colaba, but they chose to go home to the suburbs. I was really really scared for their safety, because there was no telling at 11:30 pm how many terrorists there were, and where they may attack next. As it turned out, my colleagues made the right decision, under the circumstances.

I myself, along with 80-100 others, was stuck in my workplace until daybreak. All night long we watched the horrendous news unfold on TV, but at least we were safe and had food, water, bathrooms, and access to news. Others were not so lucky.

At 5 am, we trooped downstairs to take the early trains home. Some of our company drivers had left in fear, but a few cars and drivers were still there, so I got a ride home. Was home by 6 a.m.

The next day, I heard that the terrorists had tried to enter our building on Wednesday night. It figures -- the railway bridge leads from the platform almost to our side entrance. Our security cameras recorded footage of a man with a gun pointing straight ahead, walking towards the camera/entrance. The sharpest weapon our mostly unarmed security guards have is alertness -- they saw the terrorists approaching the building and immediately closed both entrances.Their quick thinking surely saved our lives -- the terrorists then headed for the Cama and Albless Hospital. Otherwise, I'm afraid we'd have been "hostages". After all, our building is the ideal terrorist target: a historic landmark in a busy part of town, near four major bus stops, CST station, the city administration headquarters, major markets. As far as I'm aware, my company has received at least two threats since May 2008. On Wednesday night, instead of us, the patients at Cama Hospital became targets.

It's all a matter of fate, who remained alive and who didn't.

Now, as we emerge from the shock, there's a sick churning feeling in the pit of my stomach at all the opportunistic politicking and the future of South Asia. Who could have imagined Gandhi's words would ring so loud 78 years later, in so different a context! I want world sympathy in this battle of Right against Might.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Me llaman calle

Manu Chao is one of my favorite musicians -- he has that rare combination of playfulness and sympathy, and even his profoundly sad songs make me want to celebrate and dance. I don't see how it's possible to more effectively encapsulate human experience in a four-minute song. The song below is on the soundtrack of Princesas, a film I've yet to see. I couldn't find a translation, but "Me llaman calle" translates, I think, to "They call me The Street". Princesas is about prostitutes. Enjoy!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tina Fey's funny. Sarah Palin is not

Think Tina's SNL sketch was funny? That's how comedians make politicians look ridiculous, by taking their words out of context, or distorting them, right? Not always. This video shows some of what an astonishing number of Americans actually voted for. Imagine what could have been, and give thanks that it isn't. Happy Thanksgiving!