Mumbai, Aug. 25: As long as trains and buses take them to their destination, and the milk and laundry boys deliver the goods, Mumbai never stops. It didn’t today as two powerful explosions rocked the city, mobile phones jammed, and wild rumours floated thick and fast, bringing back memories of the serial blasts 10 years ago.
But over the last seven months, fear has entered the quintessential “who cares'” Mumbai mindset.
S.R. Tuliani, 42, an estate agent from Bandra, stayed put in his client’s office for four hours after his wife rang up to inform him about the blasts.
“I don’t come to town very often. So, when my wife saw the news on television, she phoned me to check if I am okay. My client asked me to hang around till things settle down a bit. In a way, Mumbai will never stop moving, but now you wonder whether you are going to be back home safely when you step out in the morning,” said Tuliani, waiting during the evening rush hour to catch a train home at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
That summed up the mood in Mumbai, where news of the explosions spread rapidly, accompanied by rumours that half-a-dozen blasts had occurred. An uneasy silence settled over the metropolis as news channels began beaming images of the damage.
The sensex took a plunge and with it went the enthusiasm of local businessmen. The Pancharatna building near Opera House, a symbol of Mumbai’s wealth and India’s chief diamond bourse, looked deserted as a posse of policemen took over the building as a precaution. Shutters were pulled down at the bustling Zaveri Bazaar and Masjid markets.
Fear was palpable at Mumbai Central station, where an explosion at a food plaza inside the station occurred in December 2002 as the Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express and August Kranti Express were about to pull out. Railway authorities closed the platform ticket counter, allowing only legitimate passengers access to trains leaving the city as police scanned every passenger entering the area.
Dhanu-based businessman Behroz Irani rushed to McDonald’s, one of the two restaurants damaged in the December blast, where his family had gathered before catching a train home. “All of us had come to Mumbai, but when we heard about the blasts we decided to return quickly,” said 42-year-old Irani, who has shifted base from Mumbai to his native Dhanu near the Gujarat border.
“I think Mumbai is immune by now to explosions. People wait for an hour to talk over jammed phone networks and other such inconveniences and get on with their lives. The point is how long can we continue like this' Are we slogging day and night and paying our taxes for this' …What security do you live with'” asks an agitated Chiranjeev Singh, sipping coffee before catching a train to the satellite town of Navi Mumbai.
Singh, 28, works in an IT firm at Dhobi Talao, 10 minutes from Zaveri Bazaar. He blamed the state intelligence network, politicians and Mumbai police for the regular blasts. “Just last week we read in the papers about a 56-member Quick Response Team being formed to tackle emergencies like these. But where was it today' Till March 1993, Mumbai had never experienced urban terrorism, but I think they should be more prepared by now,” says Singh, looking with contempt at members of the Government Railway Police standing nearby.
Having always liked the city’s cosmopolitan flavour, Singh is upset that Mumbai remains a soft target for terrorists. “How else do they get themselves heard' Mumbai has the markets, the financial muscle and anything that happens here will be noticed by the rest of the country,” he says.
Asked if last year’s Gujarat riots could have led to today’s blasts which occurred in Gujarati-dominated areas, Singh said: “It is difficult to say if cross-border terrorism is the root cause or internal events like the Mumbai or Gujarat riots, but things always have a cascading effect. If that (the 2002 riots) had not happened, then may be this would not have happened.”
But Gujaratis here insist there is no link between the riots and the blasts. Gopal R., 40, who owns a shop in Zaveri Bazaar, says: “Riots have nothing to do with it. All this is politically motivated.” Fellow businessmen echo his feelings.