The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Is my neighbour the enemy, asks Mumbai
A Mumbaikar pores over blast reports.(AFT)

Is there a word-limit for terror' I asked myself that awful question as I started to write this piece. Is it possible to sum up the trauma suffered by a stunned city in 800 precise words' The answer is obvious. And yet the ghastly truth must be stated.

“Car bomb — Taj” was the short and precise SMS I received from my son less than five minutes after a crude device exploded in the pay-and-park bay right opposite India’s grandest five-star hotel. I managed to get him on the cell phone before the networks collapsed under the overwhelming traffic.

He’d escaped the devastation by approximately four minutes, all thanks to a business colleague who’d kept him waiting. “How bad is it'” I asked. “Very,” he replied before the line went dead.

I rushed to the television set and saw Mayavati and more Mayavati. I switched on the radio and heard Hindi film remixes on the FM stations. There was just one thing to do — get there. And fast.

By now, the horrific scene that greeted me is familiar enough to all those who were glued to their TV sets on the 25th of August. I shall skip the gory details, and tell you what it actually felt like being in a familiar car park surrounded by steel carcasses that were once cars.

The first thing that struck me while I made my way to the bomb site was the casualness of the crowds hanging around. “Not another one...'” remarked a young shopkeeper, before returning to the business on hand.

A few listless policemen shooed away curious “time pass” crowds, while camera crews from different TV channels circled the blood-soaked car park and focused their cameras on the sad remains and possessions of victims — abandoned chappals, torn clothes, discarded bags.

The chief minister and his deputy had come and gone in a flurry of pilot cars and wailing sirens. Sound bites given, appropriate noises made, quotes delivered, and it was off to the next spot for more of the same.

I am surprised they got away with a gherao or two. Take a look at the statistics — 31 blasts since January 1993, 60 lives lost this year alone, 322 people dead in all. And while India’s premier city bleeds and reels in sorrow, the so-called leaders continue to spout meaningless excuses and explanations.

Sorry. But the time for whitewash is long over. The sad truth is that our police force has been politicised. The men (even the few good ones) are divided, demoralised and demotivated. When every choice posting comes with a price tag, one cannot expect anything else. The people of the city are angered and outraged. And yet, they are powerless against a state machinery that has failed them time and again.

As of now, nobody is interested in “who”. It is the “why” that’s more important. The average Mumbaikar is not looking for a fall guy either. What does it matter whether a (Deputy CM Chhagan) Bhujbal resigns' There are enough rascals to take his place.

Nobody cares, really speaking, whether it was the ‘D-gang’ or the ‘M-gang’ or even the ‘XYZ-gang’ masterminding this orchestrated terror campaign against the country’s commercial capital.

It makes little difference to the average citizen if the strike at the heart of Mumbai was the brainchild of al Qaida ISI, Simi or any other terrorist group.

The fact is Mumbai has become the number one target for enemies hell bent on destabilising the nation. The scary thing being the belief that some of those enemies live in our midst. They could be my neighbours.

The attacks are no longer coming from the outside (even if the funding is). The attacks are originating from cells far closer to home.

The face of this unseen demon may remain shrouded and anonymous. But the fear it generates is palpable and hard to ignore. A journalist friend doing the post-bomb blast rounds called wearily to say she’d had it. “I’m going to a movie,” she confessed.

Another friend decided to dine out in style at one of south Mumbai’s poshest pan-Asian restaurants. “Aren’t you scared'” I asked. “Don’t be silly... the law of probability says we’re safe for the next 10 years,” both laughed.

I’m not so sure. Bhujbal is the media’s favourite bogeyman. He may go. But will that stop the blasts from rocking our sanity'

“Bombay is going the Beirut way,” a foreign correspondent shrugged, as we surveyed the carnage at the Gateway of India. “Maybe we’ll have to teach ourselves to live with terror,” I responded. Not the best lesson to learn about life lived on the edge. Yet, what is the alternative'

Terror today has been institutionalised. It is anywhere and everywhere. Faceless and sickening. Mumbai, sadly, is not equipped to deal with it. There is no crisis management, no disaster plan.

Unlike Rudolph Giuliani, the take-charge, dynamic ex-mayor of New York, who led his troops from the front at Ground Zero, right after the Twin-Tower bombings, our netas zoomed around the city providing appropriate photo-ops to the media.

Meanwhile, just a few kilometres away from the disaster area, a “house full” board greeted fans of Hrithik Roshan. “Koi Mil Gaya'” Not yet. But the cops are still looking.

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