Good one... from NYT
India’s Indestructible Heart
By NARESH FERNANDES
MY Tuesday morning began with a flashback of the tragedy that “buried Lower Manhattan in a cloud of toxic dust that for a moment blotted out the sun.” That’s how a former colleague of mine from The Wall Street Journal had ended the first chapter of her memoir about her experiences on 9/11, which she had just e-mailed me from New York.
Twelve hours later, Indian news channels reported an explosion on a rush-hour train just past Bandra, the suburban stop where I’d gotten off an hour before. Our commuter rail’s western line carries three million of us back from work every evening, so almost everybody I know was a potential victim. Just as I was absorbing the enormity of the blast, there was news of another — and then some more. As the evening wore on, we learned that there’d been eight blasts, all timed within a few minutes.
Many of us had seen this before. On March 12, 1993, at least 10 bombs shattered the spine of our city, then called Bombay, in two hours, tearing their way northward in short, deadly bursts. That attack left 257 dead. Since then, the city has been the target of several other vicious bombings, most recently in 2003, when car bombs went off at the city’s most recognizable symbol, the Gateway of India.
The last few years have been difficult for overcrowded Mumbai, but this fortnight has left nerves especially taut. Moderate monsoon rains caused such enormous flooding that the whole city was shut down for three days. Those floods evoked memories of the cloudburst last July 26, when more than 400 people were drowned, electrocuted and crushed after their homes collapsed on top of them.
It was a tragedy that brought into focus how years of willful neglect and breathtaking corruption by municipal officials, working in tandem with avaricious politicians and real estate developers, have brought India’s financial capital to its knees. After “26/7,” as the press immediately labeled the day, our politicians and administrators fell over themselves to assure us that they’d set things right. Last week’s rains showed that their promises were as empty as our drains were full of rubbish.
Then, when the rain stopped last week, we found hooligans rampaging through our streets. As we settled down to brunch on Sunday, our TV sets brought us the chilling sight of buses being ransacked and burnt across Mumbai by cadres of the Hindu nativist Shiv Sena party. They claimed that a statue of their leader’s late wife had been vandalized, and they were protesting in the only way they knew how.
Despite the long history of sporadic violence, Mumbai has always picked itself up by its bootstraps and marched off to work as soon as the trains started working again. Our ability to jeer at misfortune is attributed in the Indian press to the “spirit of Bombay,” which is variously described as “indomitable,” “never say die” and “undying.” But our spirit has been saluted so frequently of late, all the praise was beginning to annoy me.
Before I left the office Tuesday evening, I finished a magazine article complaining that this illogical faith in Bombay’s innate resilience had the unfortunate consequence of absolving the city’s administrators of the responsibility of actually fixing our problems. No matter how bad things get, they seem to suggest, we have an infinite capacity to cope.
Soon after hearing about the blasts, I made my way to the local hospital to see if they needed blood donations. It had been less than an hour since the first explosion, but I’d been beaten to it by nearly 200 people.
When the volunteers found that the authorities had adequate supplies of blood, they waited patiently to help carry victims into the wards. Others stood over shocked survivors, fanning them with newspapers and helping them contact relatives.
Stories of exceptional selflessness have flooded in all evening. One came from my friend Aarti, who was in one of the trains on which a bomb went off. As she jumped out of her compartment, she saw streams of slum dwellers from the bleak shanties along the tracks rushing toward the train with bed sheets. They knew that there would be no stretchers to be found and were offering their threadbare cottons to be used as hammocks to carry victims away.
Perhaps the newspapers have it right after all. An anguished night has fallen over Mumbai, but when the city eventually sleeps it will do so secure in the knowledge that its spirit is unbroken, that it is, exactly like the myth has it, indomitable and undying.
Naresh Fernandes is the editor of Time Out Mumbai.