The young face of militancy
Staring back at me from the television screen was a guy about my age, dressed in a dark T-shirt with ‘Versace’ written across it, clad in jeans, hair falling across his forehead and a blue backpack slung over one shoulder.
The first thought that struck me was “this guy should be in college right now.”
He had the look typical of any college student or young professional.
He definitely did not look capable of pumping bullets indiscriminately at innocent passers-by from an automatic weapon or hold so many people hostage at one of Mumbai’s posh hubs.
For the first time since a string of bombings over the past few months, militancy now has a definite clean-shaven, young face that does not seem to care if it is seen or heard as it appears fleetingly at the windows of a luxury hotel between encounters with commandos.
The militants, some of whom arrived by sea, seemed well-trained in the art of hostage taking and dying for a cause.
Bedraggled and dazed hostages escorted out of the Taj hotel describe the militants as mere boys, wielding deadly AK-47s with backpacks loaded with ammunition.
The intention behind these fidayeen-styled attacks appear primarily aimed at taking as many hostages as possible and grabbing steady publicity over successive days in a nation weary of gruesome bombings.
The brutal outcome of the attacks reflect the real reason behind using men who appear in their early 20s, men who would not hesitate to fire in their hot-headed zeal to succeed in a fatal mission.
The attack at the Leopold Café, a popular watering hole in the city, brings out the irony best.
The militants who opened fire outside the café could not have been much apart in age than most of the crowd that was inside, unwinding with a drink or catching up with friends.
Yet the attack brings out the stark difference in the world separating them from their victims.
Sourav Mishra, a colleague and classmate, was injured in the attack at the Leopold Café and is recovering in a Mumbai hospital.
Trying to reach Sourav after the incident was another colleague and friend Abhishek Shanker who heard shots ring out around the Victoria Terminus and speaks of the night of horror.
“I along with many other onlookers and media were at the mouth of J.J. flyover next to the VT station. We could not see anything but I did hear some rounds of firing and some big blasts like a bomb blast,” he says.
I am sure in the coming days more details will emerge on the investigations following the attacks and the motivation behind a group of youngsters taking up a suicidal mission when they should be pursuing an education or a job.
It may be too late to call them misguided youths brainwashed into wreaking havoc on a city dealing with repeated blows to its resilience.
Their efficient preparations speak volumes of their cold determination.
But like me, Mumbai and the rest of India will not forget the chilling images for a long time to come. This may well be an urgent wake-up call for a country unprepared for this kind of militancy.