Bombay Burning- Thoughts


I am semi-freewriting this, so please bear with me.

38+hours and the battle rages on. One cannot step back from the situation easily, as hostages remain and the casualties keep mounting. Yet, it is essential. Mumbai is quiet. That is almost unprecedented in a city of 18 million people. Bombay is fuckin quiet. There is movement on the streets, but muted. The trains are running, but there is a haunting statistic- they are running at half-capacity or less. In a city whose trains normally contain crowds that exceed the legal limit for cattle, this speaks volumes. The city is hurt. The country is hurt. And for once, because of the foreign nationals involved, the world is hurt.

This is no simple cross-border conspiracy. This is not just a solitary Mujahideen group wishing to make a name for themselves with terrorist theatre. This is not some two-bit force of frenzied fundamentalists fighting in the name of God and Jihad. This is more. These are soldiers, assassins driven by a complex system of beliefs that allows them to commit massacre with equanimity. This is an intricate syndicate that is well-funded, highly trained and intelligent, and displays an intimate understanding of symbolism and how the international media works.


A local train blows up, and people pray for the souls lost and go about their business. International news condemns the attack but most of the world’s powers are not sucked into the vortex of fear and bedlam that Mumbaikars faced. So, change the game. “Quality, not quantity” said my advisor when I was preparing to write university essays. “Quality, not quantity“, say the masterminds of this attack. So they target the symbols of Bombay’s status as a global city, and by extension the symbols of India, India the nouveau superpower. They arrive through the Gateway of India. They hit the Taj the Oberoi and the Trident, innkeepers to the Goras, the fashion models, the cricketers, the czars of commerce. They hit the CST (formerly VT), the most recognisable symbol of Colonial Bombay. They hit Nariman House, headquarters of India’s Hasidic Jews. They specifically ask for Europeans and Americans and honor them with hostage status.What happens? The international media is forced to pay attention to this crisis, as theirs are being targetted, theirs are in danger. Thanksgiving turkeys are trounced, terrorism takes over the telecast. The masterminds rejoice. This attack makes the headlines, this attack generates images, grief, shock, concern, anger, agitation, fear, terror. This attack is a success. This attack is beautiful.

I hope people understand what we are up against: daring, political and strategic acumen, huge funding,  no dearth of desperate volunteers and above all, the will to do what India as a democratic nation cannot. The only way to counter them is to make the entire world a hostile zone for terrorists. You CANNOT point fingers at one nation (initial reports indicate that some of the terrorists were Pakistani and that the attack may have been masterminded there). You CANNOT single out a particular religion.  Please watch this excellent video with Deepak Chopra (Doctor, author and spiritual guru) explaining the problems of alienation and perpetuation. Thanks to Danial Jameel for letting me know about it.

Instead, religious groups and governments must rally together to ensure that the entire world becomes a ‘hostile zone’ for terrorists. Don’t spout vitriol such as Islam=terror, or this/that nation is responsible. One must understand that the masterminds of these attacks are brand wizards; it is in their interest for Muslims to feel humiliated and condemned as it creates a state of desperation, and brings recruits to their doors. I am not a Muslim, but I know that their religion, along with others must be respected because in many nations (especially in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent), religion is a cornerstone of identity. Consider the numbers. There are 1.5bn+ Muslims in the world, and deriding them as a whole is bound to cause alienation, distrust, and eventually hostility. India itself has 200mn + Muslims. If they collectively decide that their country has turned its backs on them, and each one picks up a knife, the entire security force of the country is in no position to counter them.

This is not an idealistic viewpoint. This writer recognizes that the history of aggression between India and Pakistan and the masterminds’ careful brand stewardship make finger-pointing inevitable. Yet it is my hope and belief that countries can come together at this tragic time and commit to creating an atmosphere of possibility. Co-operation, intelligence sharing, and a united mindset will leave the terrorists hard-pressed to breathe. And you can’t bomb if you can’t breathe.


In prayer for the victims and their families and in hope of international solidarity on this tragedy,



16 responses to “Bombay Burning- Thoughts

  1. Very well written, i must say. And yes i fully agree with your thoughts, and i also know a lot of us who share the same thought process. But the guys occupying the seats of power dont think like that very often & they r the ones running the country. How many of us are actually doing anything for our country, especially at a time like this when it is most needed? How many active steps are being taken to spread this much needed message? Unfortunately, very often we just voice ourselves at such times and get on with our own private lives, always leaving the job of making all required change to ‘others’. It is only when we peace-yearning people make our voices heard more, when we actively go around seeking friendship and actively promote international solidarity, will we begin to see a change.

  2. I agree with you re. the importance of active involvement. India is a democracy, and while 1 person cannot perform a miracle alone, he/she can trigger off a grassroots movement that could attract thousands of others and make a significant impact. While we may not be in India to promote on-the-ground reform, expressing our thoughts through alternative mediums such as the Internet, etc. can bring about improvements for the country.

    It worked for Obama ’08, in a country which has for the last 8 years strode in the absolute opposite direction. Why not in India, where the statistics of how people live are telling; it takes a special sort of people to co-exist in the madness of our cities 🙂

  3. This event will have its impact on Pakistani Indian relations for the better of the worse. It is more important to look at the reasons why this attack took place and what direction world leaders must take to solve the problem of growing terrorism at the root.

    The attack was a message that was delivered very effectively to the entire world and it could be funded by almost anyone.

  4. Mr. Ozair,

    In the long-term you are correct, it is important to examine the underlying causes. In the short term however, it is essential to find those responsible and give them the maximum penalty. This will send a strong message as well as help dispel the people’s anger.

  5. Mr. Samtani, you read my mind. I spent half my day yesterday reading your blog and I must admit, it has me hooked. The title is pure genius! Your piece on ‘Bombay Burning’ left me in awe. To quote you, the article itself “speaks volumes” about the situation.
    Come hell or high water, this is not a case where people should pointer fingers – the world is too sensitive for that.
    Kudos to you man! You’ve got yourself a fan.

  6. point* Just had to correct it!

  7. Hi Hit,

    Dad forwarded this to us. Your sentiments and feelings well expressed, shared by many Indians and individuals the world over. Have just got back from a condolence meeting held by the Indian Welfare Committee in Dubai. Both Beena and I have very special memories of both the Taj and the Oberoi. I started my working career there and I met Beena there. My first date with her was at the sea lounge in the Taj. To see all this burning in this dayand age makes one wonder whether mankind is more civilized today or otherwise? It is only united we stand as a global anti terror group which can force the wind out of the living souls of these dastardly humans.

  8. The responsibility of Violence lies with the entire humanity. When Violence is there in the human consciousness, it has, unfortunately, to erupt through some clan, community or country
    The only way to end this is through Compassion.

    If only we were to treat the whole world as one family.

    How do we handle when someone in the family turns violent?

    Remember Violence is a ‘weakness’, a sort of a disease. We have to treat it as such. Not with hatred but with compassion.

    Each one of us operates from his/her UNCONSCIOUS over which we have no control.

    Our relationship with our parents (which itself is dependant on their relationship with their parents and so on), long forgotten incidents, hurts, fears constitute our unconscious.

    The stars under which we are born, the place of birth, the historical events at the time of and around our birth. (For example, children born or still in the womb during this tragic event, or even young impressionable kids who have really no choice but to be exposed to this tragedy, on TV, Radios, by friends who have been directly hit by this tragedy, can not but be affected by this event). We all , EVEN those who committed this seemingly heinious crime operate from this unconscious. SADLY, even they cannot help but to be what they are. ONLY GRACE CAN HELP.

    Let us pray for all of Humanity (including , nay particularly,the perpetrators of this crime
    that Awareness dawns on us. Understanding Happens.

    Forgiveness Happens till the state where we all see that there is Nothing to forgive, Nobody to forgive.

  9. Difficult times – and no easy solutions.

    Hey Hit, Good one. Liked the various inputs. Amul was pure nostalgia. Deepak Chopra was good as usual. As regards the 26/11…

    In a world torn by strife, peace, compassion , understanding and empathy are often misunderstood as weakness.

    It is just as well that “Enough is Enough” is the slogan of the moment. It is good to see people waking up to our reality, Taking a stand, and getting to fix responsibilities as also fixing those who do not deliver.

    For every Deepak Samtani message, we also need a Shobha De or Alyque Padamsee to galvanise public opinion and deliver a wake up call.

    Considering the attitudes and platitudes from our political stables, it is a refereshing change to take a tougher stance. Sweet talking premiers / presidents across the border are not good enough any longer.

    Moderation , however is the key. You may take a mob upto a point, then the mob takes you thereafter, and you could lose control.

    If this is India’s 9/11, we also are blessed with the knowledge of the mistakes, nay blunders, USA committed in the aftermath of their 9/11. We need to do one better and wiser counsel should prevail.

    Being aware, and not to let sleeping dogs lie, is a good starting point. Now let the experts take over. In case of need, lets buy the best money has to offer, and lets buy it from USA or Israel .

    Security, both internal and external is a fundamental need for every sovereign nation. We can not have our kids growing up / living in perpetual fear of war / fundamentalists / terrorists.

    Pollution of the environment kills roses, this one will kill the very human spirit and the soul.

  10. Very well written…it is indeed very sad to see innocent people suffer. It is high time that the leaders of all countries take tough decision against’s only then when the so called leaders or their family members suffer will they wake up to take an action.
    Y do the people vote for leaders in India who seem to do nothing about the country rather they are busy filling their bank accounts with the hard earned money of the society.
    I wonder if people in India will ever stop voting for the leaders who do NOTHING for the country..

  11. Hi Hit,
    This is Amit, Deepak uncle sent this to my parents and they forwarded this to me…and I couldn’t have agreed with you more. Plus Deepak Chopra shared some very interesting insights…
    Thought I should add my 2 cents as well…I feel that one concern that needs to be addressed immediately is our fundamentally weak security system and more importantly the casualness of the people who stand responsible for India’s security. Unfortunately even though India is being touted as an upcoming global leader in today’s world, this terror attack exposes the country’s basic flaw i.e. failure in intelligence and not reacting in time as situation demanded. Even after 3-4 days of all terrorists being killed, the media hype seemed to rest on obvious questions; who the terrorists are, where they came from, who were the masterminds behind this act… etc.

    Like previous terror attacks, the govt. has led out extensive investigations to find these important answers. But what I want to understand as a commoner is whether I am safe. What steps has the govt. taken to provide basic security to a common man. I was reading an article in NY times which had a picture of the CST 2 days after the attacks, it showed that the metal detectors were actually on and functional but the security personnel dint seem bothered about making the people go through these metal detectors? Sometimes I feel its this attitude of ours that has made us easy targets over the years as we see the attacks getting strategically smarter and more frequent.

    I’d like to know today how this attack will change the security equation in my country. I ask myself if the terrorists were to attack today in another Indian metropolis, will the situation be handled any better? I don’t think so.
    But what I think is and strongly believe in is that ‘The best form of attack is a strong defense’ which is what our country currently lacks. “We need to have a stringent anti-terror law and a federal investigating agency, massive modernization of the police forces and an intelligent
    set-up and safeguarding on the coastal front” quoted from TOI. I just hope we get there sooner before anything like this is ever repeated in our country.

  12. Apologies for not replying sooner, there’s been a bit of madness on my end…I will try to respond to the major points made in each comment.

    To Mikaal: Thanks for the kind words, I need many more fans like you. You are right about not pointing fingers; apparently anti-Indian sentiment in Pakistan has also escalated due to these attacks. Pakistanis feel that India has no right to ‘demand’ answers, and in a certain sense that is true. India must stress to Pakistan how damaging this attack could be to bilateral relations (which were steadily improving until now), and also to the long-term stability of the region.

    B&B: This is what sets this attack apart from previous ones; it evokes intense personal reactions from the privileged class, India’s elite and foreigners. There were many incidents before this, equally gruesome and with an equally disturbing body count. But this one has shaken the uppercrust, that is the difference. Milestones in your own life took place at the Taj, so you are bound to feel a personal sense of loss. The masterminds hope that this loss will drive you to point fingers across both national and religious borders. What we must do as Indians and as international citizens is precisely the opposite. As you said only if ‘united we stand’ can we cut terrorists off at the knees.

    Prayer and grace are required now more than ever, but what is equally important in the short-term is action. An overhaul of our emergency response squads and their equipment, the establishment of a government watchdog, and an investigation that is not afraid to step on people’s toes.

    Addressing the root cause is as you said the ultimate solution…However, ideals only go a certain distance; I do not think it is feasible to find the people responsible and get them to divulge their past, formative experiences, and relationships that may have led them to do the things they do. In the end they are only pawns, brainwashed and in search of a cause. The people behind them are the ones who need to be a sent a message that they are not invulnerable.

    Mr. Iyer:
    Glad to see you embracing this platform. I agree completely with your views on 26-11, immediate action is required as well as a look to the future. While I am not a fan of Shobha De, finding her to be the epitome of negativity, I understand that she does attract and influence a large audience, some of whom have the power and money to make things happen.

    Looking forward to hearing more from you in the future, right here on Moth Smoke Lingers…


    Glad to receive your inputs and I hope you will be back more often. I must however, take issue with what you have said. It is NOT only about the leaders, there are so many ways ordinary citizens can help, from the establishment of volunteer neighborhood watch groups to things such as fundraising and raising awareness.

    The leaders are to some extent accountable, yes. But consider the difference between India, the world’s largest democracy, and USA, the world’s oldest. In India, the poor vote; in America, it is the opposite.

    We Indians who are privileged and may have the education and wealth to make a difference sit back and lament about leadership only when the country goes through a crisis. However, what about voting? NRIs will soon have voting rights (, or they might have them already. Have you ever voted, or if you are an NRI and do not have the ability to do so yet, have you been involved in encouraging people to vote? If the answer is yes, I applaud you. If the answer is no, you are among the majority of us, who talk and read and write but sadly have not acted yet. God willing, that will change.


    A pleasant surprise to hear from you dude, hope all is well! Thanks for your thoughts, with which I completely agree. There is talk about limited funds and budget constraints, but I believe national security is paramount. We have recently conducted space missions, which are a great source of national pride for India. However, I would rather see more Kevlar vests, better assault rifles and quicker disaster response times than an Indian moonwalk. It is about priorities, and sadly ‘India Shining’ should not be one of them at this point.

  13. I would agree that there needs to be a rethinking of our priorities, and that space travel should be considerably below our fundamental needs: security, education and food production. Spirituality is of little use to the man who does not know whether he will live tomorrow or be able to feed his family.

    Immediate, deliberate action is required – both for the sake of quenching public anger and to enhance our security. The last thing we can afford is to forgive and forget at this point, as the inevitable result of that is the outpouring of public anger in riots, which inevitably incite further terrorism. It is essential that we target the guilty, so that the blood of innocent Muslims will not be shed. Some prayers for peace ride on the backs of bullets.

    Yet, to believe that this could have been stopped with better equipment and training is not much more than delusion. The overall death toll stood at around 170. If a group of armed men walked into a mall in Los Angeles, they could do just as much damage before being stopped. Seung-Hui Cho killed 33 people alone last year at Virginia Tech. It is time we applaud the efforts of the NSG commandos and police for the fine job they have done in keeping the death toll low and rescuing a large number of hostages. I am confident that there are few police forces in the world that would have been able to control the situation more effectively. The fact is, amongst an unarmed populace, terror is easy to start and hard to stop.

    Lamenting about leadership is a natural defensive response to such events, but in the end, it lacks teeth. We elect our own leaders, we have no cause to complain. Maybe we should point the finger at ourselves, for helping to polarize the nation to this point. When Mayawati has a decent shot at becoming prime minister, we know there is something seriously wrong with what is going on. The Hindutva parties have gone so far to the right that they have isolated everyone else.

    And maybe this is the crux of the problem. There is a widespread belief, among Hindus in India, that we were once a perfect civilization, and that the current state of our civilization represents a fall from grace (Kali-yuga). This line of thinking is maybe our most dangerous enemy, as it leads to a belief that the way to progress is backwards, not forwards. It leads to a belief that things will only get worse, until the next avatar comes and helps us out. There is much to learn from our past, but to learn we must be able to acknowledge our mistakes. A return to so-called ‘Vedic civilization’ is neither feasible nor desirable. As long as there is still discrimination based on caste and religion in our country, we will not be secure. The onus is on society to become more inclusive, the leaders are merely a reflection of public sentiment.

    • Pras, well said. I particularly agree with the point that lambasting our leadership is a trite approach, especially in a democracy with reasonable voter turnout.

      A lone gunman with an automatic can achieve a high death toll simply by walking into a mosque, temple, church, or cafe and firing indiscriminately. By extension, a group of the same can cause considerable carnage. However, w.r.t. to these attacks, it is important to know that intelligence WAS received, possible targets and vulnerable entry points WERE identified, before the fact. This points to a necessary overhaul of the existing system, most importantly a slashing of red tape and the willingness to do whatever is necessary to a. prevent future attacks b. target the perpetrators with absolute force

      No one has denied our heroes in uniform the plaudits, respect and prayers they deserve for their role in ending the massacre. What I think you might have missed is videos on NDTV, etc. of the equipment that they had, and the time that was taken to deploy them. They are not consistent with India’s self-declared image of the new superpower, and need to be addressed pronto.

  14. I agree with Prasan completely when he says that we need to laud the efforts of the security personnel in this situation. I think that they did a fantastic job in limiting the damage.
    Unfortunately, what we do not hear about in the media is that for every terrorist attack that takes place, there are probably about 10 that are foiled by the authorities before they can be carried out.
    India has always been a very likely target for a terrorist attack, and i believe people underestimate how easy it is for someone to slip into a position to carry out such a strike. For a country with over 1.2 billion people, a college-id carrying student with credit cards and a blackberry (the terrorists had both) would most likely seem to be a victim than the culprit.
    You are right, they did receive threats and warnings, but they probably receive similar ones by the hundreds in a day. It is not humanly possible to give each and every one a top priority. It is true that they need to have a better setup to detect and prioritize such threats, but even then, with the sophistication and cunning that these extremist organizations operate in today’s world that can be a very tedious job.

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