The Mumbai gawkers
Imagine taking a DJ to a funeral or U.S. President George W Bush taking Oliver Stone along to Ground Zero after the 9/11 attack. Would you call it inappropriate? I think the word doesn’t even begin to describe Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s actions on Sunday afternoon.
On a visit to the ravaged Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, he was accompanied by his son, actor Riteish Deshmukh, and filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, both of them strolling around as if it were a normal walk in the park.
That a city already grappling with rage and grief had to see images of Varma walking around the Taj like he was location hunting for a new film, speaks volumes about the sheer apathy and callousness of the people in power.
Varma says he was never invited to the Taj, nor does he intend to make a film on the terror attacks, telling Reuters in a text message that he “just happened to be with Riteish, whom I know very well.”
TV channels are reporting as I write that Deshmukh has offered to resign, as has his deputy R R Patil.
In my mind though, this callous attitude is not just limited to our politicians alone. We criticise them for being insensitive, but what about the thousands of people who came out to gawk at the burning Taj and click pictures of themselves in its backdrop?
“This has turned into some kind of a macabre tourist spot,” a colleague said to me.
And it wasn’t just the Taj. At Nariman House, while NSG commandos were struggling to get inside the besieged house, there were hordes of people out in the narrow street, just gawking at the grenades and gun fire.
As policemen tried to push the crowds back, telling them that a grenade might burst any moment, one teenager refused to move.
“So what if there is a bomb, it’s not going to walk over here and burst on my head is it,” he cheekily told the policeman.
That’s not all. There were people peering out of street corners, clicking pictures, hoisting their children on their shoulders so they could get a better view, and excitedly calling up friends on their cellphones saying “Guess what, I am at the Taj, and I can see it burning!”
As a nation, I understand that we are angry and outraged at the callous behaviour of our politicians but I am not sure many of us were any better.