Mumbai – the city that never sleeps in peace?
“I always like walking in the rain, so no one can see me crying.”
No, that’s not your ordinary Mumbai resident, the morning after three blasts rocked crowded markets Wednesday evening, killing 18 people and injuring more than 130. It’s a famous quote by Charlie Chaplin, arguably the greatest comedian the world has ever known.
But the joke is on the Mumbaikar, yet again, as torrential rains lash this coastal city in what seems like Mother Nature’s wasted effort to wash away somebody else’s sins.
People pick up the pieces and move on, not out of resilience, but a paucity of options amid a struggle for survival every day. Schools are open and the shutters are back up in most shops, even in blast-hit localities.
My wife left for her film shoot at 7 this morning, as if nothing happened. It did make me think. Many moons ago, in 1993, I stopped to help a fellow passenger who nearly fell between the local train and the tracks. I saw something similar two days later and did not even bother to stop. I couldn’t, as I had a meeting I could ill afford to miss.
The same goes for the street vendor and Mumbai’s floating population who have no option but to go back to the same spot and set up shop.
Is this because the city couldn’t care less? No, Mumbaikars seem to find solace in sticking to the beaten track. Do they sense security when they do not stray?
The usual suspects in news media have already talked up the “spirit of Mumbai” and there will probably be more who will flock to television studios by evening or lead candle-lit processions to the Gateway of India. Tokenism can wait.
A quick drive through the city and one can see police pickets and random searches and that’s about it. No militant outfit has claimed responsibility so far and India’s Home Minister P Chidambaram says “all groups hostile to India are on the radar.”
This is not the first time that India’s financial capital has been targeted and will probably not be the last. This is my fifth year in Mumbai and I’ve already seen three terror strikes — seven explosions that killed at least 174 people in packed commuter trains on July 11, 2006; the November 26, 2008 coordinated terror strikes that took away 166 lives spread across an iconic railway station, a popular cafe, a local hospital and two landmark luxury hotels and this one last evening at three crowded markets.
Does it mean we stop living? There is nothing that could have saved you or me if we were in any of those markets. And, there is nothing that should stop us from living our lives tomorrow.
This city which is home to 20 million is one that never sleeps. Which makes one believe it’s India’s Red Light district – which warmly embraces one and all, at times leaving the door ajar for even the miscreants to sneak in and wreak havoc.
India, more so Mumbai, has always been a soft target for militant strikes. For the central and state governments that are struggling to posit some semblance of authority, these blasts might be a wake-up call. Or, will it help distract from the billion-dollar scams that dominated the headlines day in and day out for more than a year?