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Paradise Lost: An Obituary and a Birth Certificate

November 29, 2008 4 comments

“We are going to Bombay!” responded Dad one summer to the biannual question “Where are we going?” that I posed every time I saw Mom and him Pack. As a child, the prospect of travel always excites one, but the prospect of travel to Bombay was overwhelmingly exciting and I still remember it, for that when I classified India; into Bombay and every place else. I still do.

Events, Places and People in our memory are all subject to the impact that they leave on us. The mind, being a super efficient machine, skims out those whose impacts have waned over time to make way for the new. The impact that Bombay had on me when I first met her as a kid, may perhaps be recounted with the fact that a decade and a half later, the love affair that started back then is still as passionate as ever. I still call her Bombay and she fill me with a love so strong that when I am not with her I yearn to be with her. A love so strong that every event that registered in my memory a painful moan of that beloved city, makes me wince. The latest of these however, made me cry.

Bombay isn’t a stranger to violence, neither are those millions who have a relation with her. There have been acts of violence perpetrated throughout her past, tearing apart at least as much if not more. Why then was this the most disturbing? There are three main reasons.

The first among the reasons for this is the intent behind the attack. Terrorism, as I have noted in my writings, is not based upon the idea of violence but on the idea of threats of violence. Terrorist attacks are generally directed to create a sense of panic; the understanding behind it that out of fear of violence, their demands shall be met. Sometimes, a terrorist attack is directed to inflict pain upon those whom they believe to be perpetrator of pain to their people. But this, is a proclamation of their fearlessness, conviction and power. These attacks weren’t designed to kill more people or cause more direct damage, they were designed to get the maximum attention to them. And to one fact: We are determined to kill all who do not ascribe to our philosophy and we have the capacity to do so. It is this bold statement of aggression that fills us with much deeper distress than ever before.

The second is the fact that it exposes major flaws in our administrative and security infrastructures. Placing makeshift home bombs on cycles in crowded markets or in tiffins in trains is an act that can be carried out by people who are untrained and driven by hate and propaganda; brainwashed into these acts. Cheap local goons can be used to carry out these acts of cowardice who may have been hired for a very short duration in a tiered fashion making traceability more difficult. Stabbing the jugular vein of an economy by holding its premium stakeholders at ransom, using militants who have the backing of a money chain that allows them access to good equipment and training, is something that takes much much deeper planning. This coupled with the fact that they didn’t seek anonymity, hints that traceability was pretty much present; *we* failed to note and act to prevent it.

And the third fact is that these attacks signal a much greater link and co-operation between the global terror vendors. The arms, the training and the plan all point to a much greater collaboration. It would seem as though the groups who now target the developed nations who have waged their war on terror are not too far from those who seek to break down my country at the grass root level; destabilize its society and damage the collective economy. It connects the dots from Dawood and the Dubai Underworld to the Kashmiri militants and Al Qaeda. The writing on the wall is: We really have a united agenda: The business of death. The same people want to see Madrid, London, New York and Bombay Burn. Because they are inherently not seeking anything reasonable, they just ‘want to watch the world burn’.

Terrorism, gentlemen, now has a face, money, conviction, connections and capability to strike anywhere.

It is here that a united stand on this threat is the call of the hour. The nations of the world need to address this problem together. Our houses, are all so close together, a fire breaking out in one, can burn the whole town down.

What then do we need to address this call, the open challenge that now faces all of us? The answer to this is two fold:

  1. We need to develop strong leaders. World over, the common man is a follower. And this is due to circumstances. The ice-cream peddler on the road is not incapable of thought. He is simply not at the luxury. He has issues from income to family to health. He is preoccupied with his life and understandably so; there is no other motive for him to function as he does except for his own life. This common man needs a leader. A leader who he can look up to because he leads by way of example. A leader who can take care of everything indirectly related to his life so he can focus on his immediate ones. At no point of time in our life times, has the call for a leader been so desperate. Our representatives have failed us time and time again.
  2. We need responsible citizens. Every thing else is function of who and how we are. It is us who has places these representatives who aren’t even capable of thinking in decision making positions. We are the ones who have given birth to and consume this irresponsible sensationalist media. We are the ones who have made our systems corrupt, rusty and inefficient. OUR inaction is to blame for everything: from dirty politics to non responsive systems. All our social structures are a reflection of who we are.

In simple words, we need to address the situation by two means. A top down approach, finding the leaders for the world. A bottom up approach, changing who we are.

Making memories is hardwired to animals with developed brains, notably Mammals. Forgetting is an acquired trait, a conscious choice. Learning to forget is a process initiated by the choice of indifference. As with all animals, it is in our nature to survive. We, therefore, do what we believe to be the best to survive. Sometimes, it means remembering and sometimes, it means forgetting.

To survive this madness, we need to forget our differences and remember these painful events, for “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana) We also need to remember and resound the faith that Love can survive, but it needs help from us.

As I resound this faith, I can’t help but remember words from great Hasya Kavi (satirical poet) Surendra Sharma:

कोई फर्क नही पड़ता, इस देश में राजा रावण हो या राम,

जनता तो बेचारी सीता है, राजा रावण हुआ तो हरण कर ली जायेगी

और राजा राम हुआ तो अग्नि परीक्षा के बाद भी ठुकरा दी जायेगी

I write this as an obituary to two:

A Broken, shattered, beguiled, betrayed behemoth of a city and those who died in their honour.

But Bombay is an eternally regenerating strand of life; a Phoenix, that just like always will rise from its ashes. It changes bodies, forms, names but the spirit remains the same. It is capable of recycling itself, its dreams, its aspirations, its realities to create life once again. I therefore write this also as a Birth Certificate to two:

The Great Urban Metropolis, Bombay to me and several others, Mumbai to the generations after me. That Loving, Dazzlingly Beautiful, Eternally Enchanting, Magnanimous Land of Gold, that everyone can call home. And to those who realize the responsibilities upon them and are ready to take upon the duties, the dreams and the hopes of both Bombay and its Martyrs; ensuring their sacrifices do not go vain. Let this be the day we reinvent ourselves and be worthy of Bombay and all she has to offer.

I know that I shall be one such soul, I hope you will join me and someday we shall know Surendra Sharma as only a great poet, not a satirical one.

Bombay is Dead, Long Live Bombay!