Walking about townside

Yesterday was nice. My sister was visiting and after two hectic days of shopping, we decided to spend the day just walking my favourite paths in townside. The cab dropped us off at the Trident end of Marine Drive where tons of news vans were parked. I realized that Trident was opening again. Some members of the public were already gathered to gawk. TV channels must have begun to hysterically scream about how Mumbai was back in business. We got away from all of that and began to walk among the standard Sunday morning crowd - old people power walking, marathoners practicing their runs, young couples shyly sitting on the parapet walls and holding hand. I had wanted to show my sis Marine Drive on a Sunday morning and it was heartening not to see the emptiness I had seen the weekend after the blasts.

She was pretty impressed anyway. And in one of those rare moments when we discuss the state of the world, she confessed that seeing Mumbai finally gave her hope that India could some day be like a developed country. ‘You mean, like the broad roads or the cool looking bus stops in Marine Drive?’, I asked, a little taken aback I must confess. After all, townside in Mumbai is hardly representative of the progress of the rest of the nation. ‘No. Those markers on Marine Drive that says how many kms you have walked. I never thought that we would actually spend on something that is a convenience, not an essential’. It made sense in someway. I guess our thinking has changed.

From there we went to Leopald for breakfast. Sis tucked in the yummy Akuri and Strawberry lassi and in the middle of it managed to roll her eyes at a couple of people who looked like hookers and I excitedly whispered how the area attracted backpackers, and consequently the trinket sellers, drug peddlers and also everyone else catering to this populace. Though from there, I restored respectability to the place by taking her to Good Earth, Adamjis and Titan, past all the branded stuff stores. It was not until a friend pointed out later did I realize that we had not thought of spotting the bullets which are still rumoured to be embedded in Leopald.

After walking the streets and randomly buying stuff, it was time to wind up with a mandatory photo shoot in front of the Gateway of India and Taj with pigeons flying about you. Unfortunately, entry to Gateway was through one of those metal detector gateways in a single file. My sister refused to join the rush of people surging through this pathway and could not get why there were so many people out on a Sunday noon forming a huge crowd.

I thought nonchalantly ‘Yeah, that’s Mumbai’


In the Parliament - Bombay blast

December 2, 2008

Asif Zardari on Larry King Live

“Larry, I think these are stateless actors who have been operating all throughout the region. The gunmen, plus the planners, whoever they are, they are stateless actors who are holding hostage the whole world.”

December 3, 2008


December 4, 2008


December 5, 2008


December 6, 2008


December 7, 2008


December 8, 2008


December 9, 2008


December 10, 2008


December 11, 2008

Pranab Mukherjee in the Parliament ‘Have ‘non-state actors’ come from another planet,”

Whew. And just when I had given up hope we would come up with a good Bollywood style retort.

In the midst of this and other remarks in the Parliament that make you smack your head, (Manmohan Singh - There are no good terrorists or bad terrorists), we have come up with a series of impressive sounding measures.
But as the PM pointed out some of the measures had already been in place and the implementation never just took off. Will we follow up with action this time around?


The week after we are still a mess - Bombay Blast

The last week has been rather surreal

- actually avoiding crowded places like malls and theatres, spending the first half of the week taking a cab home to avoid walking, sitting in office throughout the day with nary a lunch time walk…is this how people in war torn areas live? Is this how people in Kashmir live? I shudder to think of what they have been going through every day, day in and day out

- Mumbai’s siege may be over but we are still discovering undefused bombs containing RDX in CST, leftover from the last attack. Leftovers! Isn’t that the word used to describe what I find in my fridge after a week? Not for bombs in Mumbai’s most important railway station

- Look ma, no leaders! Maharashtra took its own sweet time to pick Ashok Chavan as CM. And Narayan Rane is still crying foul. Seriously you guys at the Congress top brass! If the purpose of sacking Vilasrao Deshmukh was to show that the Congress ‘cared’ about the nation and wanted someone who would deliver to take charge at the helm, then atleast go about it smoothly. It is not like the public was conned for one moment but it is rather embarrassing to watch you stumble over yourselves so much.

- Asif Zardari on Larry King Live claiming India has given no evidence of the nationality of the terrorists and in case evidence is given against the list of 20 terrorists we have demanded be handed over, they will be tried in Pakistan. Now imagine the Taliban guys post 9/11 sitting with Larry and saying this to the U.S……. Alright, we accept we are not the U.S. and Pakistan is not Afghanistan, but reading international press does not give me any confidence about India’s view point being portrayed fairly. My only hope is that we are working on a super secret plan to handle this whole thing that has (rightly) not been shared with the media yet. Think we should get there once we finish pacifying Rane.

- The discovery of the Quick Response Team trained by the NSG. Surprise, surprise we did have a quasi – NSG like squad all along but does anyone remember the acronym QRT being tossed around with ATS, NSG and RAF...neither do I.


The aftermath - Bombay blast

The last few days have exposed the gaping holes in India’s security. No one had a clue that such large tranches of arms and ammunition were being moved along the coast. The agencies which did suspect it passed on the information to people who could act but who chose not to act. When the terrorists stuck, the Mumbai police was clearly out of its depth. It took the NSG ten hours to land in the scene of action. The media became a liability by providing information on what was happening at the three locations. Shivraj Patil in his interview to the media in the middle of Wednesday night sounded as clueless as the media about the reason behind the attacks and the scale of it. People stood around Nariman House cheering commandoes like a Trapeze artist had just finished his show in the circus and a couple of bystanders gawking at the scene in Taj actually got hurt in the crossfire.

The whole thing sounds like an unbelievable novel set in some impoverished nation in the 70s. Not like it happened in one of the world’s rapidly growing economic and nuclear powers. As a citizen of one, I would so love to kick some butt.

Why is our security not better than this?

We are surrounded by an elite crop of neighbours – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, and China. Pick any one name off this list and you cannot but wonder how we can be lax on security. What are we spending our money on if we don’t know what is going on right beneath our noses? And once hit, why is our response time so bad? While it is understandable that local cops can’t be expected to respond to extraordinary situations like this, why don’t we have specialized cops in all key places? It is not like this is a sudden occurrence. After all Bangalore, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Assam – all of them were hit just this year. What is our strategy in the face of terror attacks and hostage situations? Do we fumble around before getting our act in place? Why did we have to lose our head of the Anti Terrorism Squad in the line of fire so early on when, with all due respect, he should have been planning strategy?

The fight going in the media about the exact number of terrorists was incredulous. Central sources claimed 15. Mumbai police said 10 landed and 5 went back. I am having a tough time trying to visualize 5 young, determined terrorists training for a year coming to Mumbai’s coast and saying to themselves ‘Oh dear, I don’t feel up to it. I am heading right back to Karachi’. The hatchet was buried when the Police commissioner clarified that the number was indeed ten and all terrorists were accounted for.

What are we doing about our esteemed neighbour, Pakistan, the hotspot of terrorists?

If anyone remembers Dawood Ibrahim (from the 93 Mumbai blasts)
it is probably from his sightings at social functions in Pakistan. The man will die a natural death before we can even extradite him. Our failure in bringing to task a man wanted in one of India’s most horrific attacks certainly sends out signals that we either don’t care or are incapable. Forget Dawood, the closest we have got to his on-the-ground guy in India, Tiger Memon, is to arrest his family including his younger brother, Yakub Memon, when they finally came back to India.

The universally accepted fact is that if ever a list of best training grounds in the world for an ambitious terrorist were to be made, Pakistan would be right up there in the list.

Does that mean we go to war with Pakistan?

Certainly not. If we did go to war, where would it stop? Unlike a boundary dispute where you know the purpose of aggression, this would just be ‘we will show them’ kind of war with no end in sight. On the other hand, the time has come to gang up with other nations. If Pakistan were to make inroads into Kashmir, it becomes a bilateral boundary dispute. If Pakistan were to train people to create terror situations, it is a global problem. The time is right, with such an outpouring of support from nations across the world, including the big daddy of all, the U.S. to put pressure through cutting them off. Stop dealing with them till they manage to demonstrate that they have put an end to ISI’s training-terrorists activities or managed to get some kind of control over the apparently wild North Western frontier which acts as a freeway in the arms trade.

So what are top honchos doing?

Bickering on TV. Vilas Rao Deshmukh had nothing useful to say and sulked in his interview
outside the Trident on Friday, implying that Narendra Modi should have stayed at home. Then he decided to get some goodwill for son Ritesh by taking Ritesh and Ram Gopal Varma on a guided tour of the Trident (Note to father and son – RGV’s films suck these days. You could have bet on someone else). R.R.Patil displayed his sensitive side by making a remark that sounded like a DDLJ quote on how small things happen in big cities. Kerela CM Achuthanathan’s massive ego made him make rude remarks about NSG's slain Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan’s family. Surely, these guys are not for real?

Do we sack them?

Oh yes. Atleast Deshmukh deserves to go. I don’t believe for one minute that his likely replacement, Sushil Kumar Shinde is more competent or less corrupt than he is. What we however need to demonstrate is the minimum standards that we, as the voting public, expect from our leaders. We expect that they understand that it hurts to live in the fear of where the next bomb would go off. We are shocked by how easily the sequence of events happened. We are outraged by the general air of cluelessness and silliness. We will put up with a lot and we do put up with a lot. But expecting us to put up with incompetence that threatens our lives, is really pushing us too far. If people in charge of our security cannot deliver, then we would like to see them pay for it.

So what do we do now?

No clue. Really. Taking part in candle vigils does not work for me. I can see it is a great outlet but am not sure if it is much of a solution. Not to mention, I am worried that it may provide an attractive venue for any leftover terrorists who did not take the boat back to Karachi as the Mumbai police claimed. Not being resilient and sitting at home is not an option. I have to pay my rent and feed myself.

I don’t think that voting out a particular party is enough. My only hope is voting out specific politicians who screwed up this time. It is one thing when your party does not come to power. But it hurts at a very personal level if you lose and are faced with the threat of becoming inconsequential within your party.

I am certain that Shivraj Patil will bounce back after a while. But in the interim, I am sure the ‘perks’ and the power he will lose on account of not being a cabinet minister for a couple of years will pinch. But imagine if he just lost elections and could not even come back as a cabinet minister. Boy, that would sure keep him awake at nights the way I woke up in fits on Wednesday night, very frightened. And when he comes back, hopefully, he will keep it in mind and deliver slightly better so as to not be sacked. And hopefully, other politicians in similar jobs also sit up and take notice of how ephemeral their posts are when they don’t deliver.

I still have faith that you can use your vote to make your voice audible. Just think about what your minimum standards are.