From my TOI : Freeze Frame
Mumbai, 16th July, 2011.
Day three after 13/7. The 19th victim has succumbed to his injuries early this morning. The city that had already been upon its feet from the morning after – had dusted off the harsh pieces of shrapnel – has today picked up the missing diamonds strewn around in the narrow alleys of Opera House. The diamond merchants of Zaveri Bazar and Opera House are still debating over whether or not to move base to another part of the city and the pros and cons of moving into a new bourse. Several hospitals have decided to issue ID cards to blast victims who have shrapnel permanently embedded in them so that they don’t set off metal detectors. And today, a national daily’s headlines screamed, “CM: City not equipped to tackle terror” – the Centre and the State are still obviously locked in a debate over whose line was it anyway.
But, this time, something has changed. The much patronised “resilient” Mumbai has refused to accept the adjective as much as the lauding of its “spirit”, because therein lies the parallax, an error in judging Mumbai’s so called ability ‘to bounce back’. It is not ‘resilience’ – that the Oxford Dictionary defines as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; elasticity’ that causes Mumbai to bounce back each and every time. ‘Resilience’ is far too romantic an expression to describe the city’s state of being. It is in mourning, it is numb with pain and sick of being an orphaned, stationary target. It has crossed the thin red line between waiting to be repeatedly bludgeoned by terror attacks and growing numb to the continuous onslaught of pain, picking up the pieces and continuing.
No, do not discount it as apathy either. The city that lay within and beyond the terror triangle of Wednesday, both to the south and the north, huddled over telephones to make frantic phone calls, jammed mobile networks to make sure that their closest people, their friends were safe. Mumbaikars, who have looked terror in the eye several times over the years, stayed put in their offices aiding the affected, disaster management teams housed in corporate establishments swung into work, strangers opened up their doors to strangers, ferried people stranded in the chaotic, rainy streets of the city. Netizens on social networks went overboard trying to reach out to people on the ethernet, collated and created spreadsheets of emergency numbers, hospitals, blood-banks, phone numbers of people who had opened up their houses to shelter people for the night. In spite of the CM not being able to reach the Police Chief because of the network being jammed, there was an invisible machine that slowly kept turning its wheels, cogs nudged other cogs into motion and by late night, with the death toll at 18 and over 130 injured, Mumbai was assisting its injured, preparing to bury its dead and most people had reached home, scared but safe.
They didn’t wait for the ‘Spirited Mumbaikar’ certificate to arrive at their desks the next morning, despite the incessant rain they just reported back to work. The kids were back in school, some of us we were back in front of the computer, on social networks, with steaming cups of coffee, condemning the blasts, tearing the newspapers apart for putting up gory pictures, criticizing television channels for their insensitive, invasive, sensationalised reportage. The daily bread had to be earned, thus people across social strata – vegetable vendors, masons, workmen, white collared workers and the social elite, left their chawls and mansions and took their ‘trains’ back to work. It was back to being just another day. And to the world at large, it seemed that Mumbai had ‘bounced’ back on its feet, the parallax.
In the last three days, nothing much has changed other than trying to sift through the rubble, looking for clues in the craters left behind by the ammonium nitrate-based explosives, searching for more dead bodies, VIPs visiting the injured and the State announcing monetary aid to the families of the dead. Thankfully, no candle light vigils have yet been organised at the Gateway of India. Nothing much more will change in the coming days. Least of all the coming of an assurance that such blasts will not recur or that Mumbai will not be targetted anymore.
The city is learning its lesson the hard way, almost like an orphan, to cope with disaster, one bomb blast, one terrorist attack, one siege at a time. The novelty had worn off within the first few times the city was under attack. It is a sense of helplessness that is growing rapidly, alongside a disdain for the meaningless sympathy that is often heaped upon it. The fear will remain; people will keep looking over their shoulders for a while and pray that they don’t fall prey to the next blast.
As a friend shared, the morning after, “I will have my running shoes on more often now and exercise to ensure I have stronger shoulders so that I can lend a helping hand to people who might need my help the next time around.”