| Under attack: The Taj, Mumbai
Good wars, bad wars
Those who have had a good war, an expression common in Fleet Street to assess which journalists have achieved prominence while covering a violent conflict of some kind, include Rahul Singh, who was quick off the mark with a piece in The International Herald Tribune; Anil Dharker whose article appeared in The Independent; and Booker Prize winner Aravind Adiga who wrote for The Times.
Rahul and Anil had obviously been at the same Parsi wedding near the Taj on the evening it was attacked — in fact, Anil gave a mouth-watering description of the feast on offer (The star of the meal is the patra ni machchi, fish coated with green chutney and steamed in a banana leaf, but its only one course of a many-splendoured meal.)
Rahul posed the question: Why did the countrys intelligence services fail to detect the threat of an operation involving so many terrorists that must have taken several months to plan?
Anil, I thought, made a good point about what gives the city its character: Mumbai belongs to no one. Or it belongs to everyone. To the Parsi, the Marwari, the Gujarati, the Punjabi, the Englishman and the European and yes, the Maharashtrian.
As for the Taj, Aravind summed up popular sentiment: The terrorists will not destroy the Taj. People in Bombay are already wondering if it will take six months or a year for the hotel to reopen: it is only a question of when, not if. That is the Bombay spirit, indomitable, and the city will bounce back.
Wishing to consult Ali Kiani, a Pakistani journalist I have known for years, I rang the Daily Jang in London and was deeply saddened to be told, Hes no more, he passed away two-three months back.
Mr Kiani, as I always called him, was a gentle, soft-spoken man who had started on an Urdu language newspaper in London in the days when copy had to be handwritten. He was a lovely man — like so many of my Pakistani friends in London who are appalled by whats happened.
Q&A with Vikas Swarup
From South Africa, where he is the deputy Indian High Commissioner, Vikas Swarup, contributed his thoughts to The Guardian, which added a footnote probably at the authors request: Vikas Swarups views expressed here are entirely in his personal capacity.
I rang Vikas, a friend from his days as a diplomat in London (though he never confided he was working on Q&A, the novel which has been turned into the prize winning film, Slumdog Millionaire).
His article was a shocking reminder of how often Mumbai had been attacked: I am confident that we shall prevail and that Mumbai will bounce back, as it did in 1993, 2003, 2005 and 2006. Because that is the spirit of the city — strong, resilient and unbowed.
| Low point: The hijacked IC 814
Lessons from London?
This is in no way to detract from the heroism of policemen and commandos who have lost their lives but I cannot help thinking that had such a situation occurred in London, Scotland Yard and the SAS would have handled the crisis differently. The area around the Taj would have been cordoned off, making it harder for TV cameras to provide damaging live coverage of the movement of security forces. It was certainly a mistake to show commandos being dropped by helicopter on to Nariman House, my police contacts suggest. Was it this that panicked the gunmen into shooting their Israeli hostages? Dead gunmen tell no tales so we wont ever know at what point hotel guests, for example, were killed.
The normal practice in the UK is to insert listening devices and seek to prolong negotiations with the kidnappers rather than rush into a rescue operation.
The notion that a BJP government would be tougher on terrorism also does not stand up to scrutiny. Being familiar with the case of Omar Sheikh, I recall how he and Maulana Masood Azhar were released from Tihar in 1999 after the hijacking of IC814. The rot set in after the BJP government caved in and Jaswant Singh flew to Kandahar with the prisoners in exchange for the hijacked passengers.
India now has to prepare for the inevitable: an attempt, probably another hostage taking, will be made by his handlers to free the surviving gunman.
Mumbai massacre or Bombay burning?
Whats in a name, wondered Andrew Gilligan, in his Evening Standard column in London.
I happen to know Andrew well for we sat opposite each other when we were colleagues on the Sunday Telegraph and before he went to the BBC and stirred up a huge controversy by claiming that Tony Blairs government had sexed up a report on the existence of weapons of mass destruction to justify the Iraq war.
Now Andrew insisted he would show solidarity with my Indian friends by referring to Mumbai as Bombay.
Should the people of the city — like Andrew — claim Bombay back as their first act of defiance against the local administration which had let them down?
He argued: As Bombays best contemporary chronicler, the Gujarati writer Suketu Mehta, points out, the Hindu supremacist Maharashtra state government changed the name as part of its campaign to make Bombay a Hindu, or more specifically, Maharashtrian city: a complete denial of its true identity as Indias most multicultural (and also most Westernised) place.
He declared that names are important: and I, for one, will be sticking with Mehta.
| Ready and waiting: Tarique Ghaffur
Now that he has retired as an assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard, following an out of court settlement, Tarique Ghaffur, who was the most senior Muslim officer in the UK, is setting up his own security agency.
I stayed in the old wing of the Taj last year when I went with (previous) London mayor, Ken Livingstone, says Tarique.
Tarique now has friends in the Mumbai police. They have learnt a lot but if I can help or offer advice, I would be delighted.
Watching Ghaffur on television after the July 2005 suicide bombings in London inspired Jagmohan Mundhra to make Shoot on Sight, in which the central character, Commander Tariq Ali, played by Naseeruddin Shah, resigns from the police at the end of the movie.
Ghaffur, who was born in Uganda, is still only 53. Since his expertise is in protecting cities from terrorists, his offer of help (also made after the Mumbai train bombings in 2006) should be taken up.
| Emerging voice: Tanika Gupta
Tanika Gupta did go to Buckingham Palace (in a dress, not a sari) to collect her MBE for services to drama from the Queen.
Its just as well Tanika didnt refer to her first play, Voices on the Wind, based on letters written from prison by her great-uncle, Dinesh Chandra Gupta, a freedom fighter hanged by the British at the age of 19 on July 7, 1931.
Unlike her great-uncle, who shot an English officer inside the Writers Building in Calcutta, she predicts the terrorists who took over the Taj will never ever be considered freedom fighters because they did not target political institutions — they attacked innocent civilians. The two things are completely different.