I have never been to Bombay. I have been there only once, to attend the launch of a Yana Gupta calendar, but since the stay lasted exactly 24 hours, I don't count it as a stay. Still in those 24 hours, I packed in as much as I could.
Immediately after I landed in the afternoon, I went to the Juhu Chowpatty. I instantly recognised it! -- so many memorable songs have been shot there, including Humko tumse ho gaya hai pyaar kya karen (Amar Akbar Anthony) and Koi ladki mujhe kal raat sapne mein mili thhi (Seeta Aur Geeta). The night was calendar launch -- the kind of party you see in movies.
The next morning I wanted to visit a friend in Cuffe Parade. My hotel was in Juhu. He told me that the most convenient thing to do would be to take a autorickshaw to the Bandra station and take a local train. I went to the Bandra station, bought a Rs 7 ticket and waited for the train. The train arrived. It was so packed that I did not have the nerve to get in: I mean it was physically impossible to get in! I sadly walked away: the images of Amol Palekar and Tina Munim romancing in Baaton Baaton Mein kept flashing in my mind. The train to me was like a long-lost girlfriend who I could recognise instantly but she had disappeared even before I could call out her name.
Outside the Bandra station, I walked up to a man who I had known for 25 years -- the good, old Bombay taxiwallah! Dozens of heroes -- and dozens of times -- have sought his help to chase the heroine or the villain or to simply go to work. He put the metre down and we set off. On the way, we crossed a stretch which I had known for -- once again -- 25 years! The Marine Drive.
That's the thing about Bombay: you don't have to go to the city to see it. Those into Hindi movies have grown up in it without even setting foot on it. That's why it hurts even a Bihari or a Bengali when tragedy strikes far-off Bombay. It is the surrogate hometown of every Hindi movie-watcher.
God knows how many Amol Palekars and Tina Munims must have been travelling on the local trains, engaged in homeward journey romance, when the blasts ripped through them this evening. While I write this, the toll is 135. It is bound to go up.
The dead died an undignified and cruel death. The families are mourning them. The wounded are lying in hospitals in bloodied clothes. And the rest of the country is watching in shock. The word 'shock' is actually an exaggeration here: it should be reserved only for people who are directly linked to the tragedy -- parents whose son is still missing, wife who lost her husband, and so on. A tragedy, no matter how morbid, never chills your bone till you are actually connected to it.
As I watched the news of the blasts on TV, my heart went out to people living in far-flung areas of India who have a relative or relatives in Bombay. Phone-lines are jammed: there is no way they can get to know if their people are safe. So they are posting messages on TV channels, saying things like: "Vishal, are you OK? Please call me at 98-whatever. We are worried." The anxiety would make relatives die a hundred deaths before they can establish contact with their near and dear ones in Bombay. And there are bound to be hundreds of people who won't be forunate enough to say: "Ah, I have finally got through to him (or her)!" They might have to search through mangled bodies. What a disturbing thought!
But what was more disturbing to me, as I sat watching TV, was the fact that these channels, while flashing messages of anxious relatives, were also hosting gasbags who connected the blasts to possible derailment of Indo-Pak ties and held forth on how India should eliminate terrorism (and terrorists) and so on. I don't know whether to blame the channels or the gasbags who, unfortunately, belong to my fraternity.
Bombaywallah's don't need lecturing, they need assurance. Maybe they don't need the assurance as well, for the city is known to bounce back after every tragedy. But I find it in bad taste to give the blasts a political or a foreign affairs angle. If anyone needs lecturing, it is the police, which failed to react swiftly to the blasts. It was left to Bombaywallahs to cart fellow citizens to the hospitals: and they did that with great efficiency.
Now there is bound to be a great deal of talk on terrorism. The Bombay blasts will merely become a part of chronology. But does anybody really care to look at what actually precipitates terrorism? Nobody is a born terrorist. And one man's terrorist can be another man's freedom fighter. Every terrorist has a cause, and unless you look into the cause, you cannot finish terrorism. If you kill one terrorist, seven other will be born. That is why West Asia will never be peaceful. India too will never be 100 percent peaceful unless Kashmiris are allowed their dignity and a say in deciding their own future.
For that matter, America is never ever going to feel safe again: in the name of fighting terrorism the superpower carried out the worst kind of terrorism, as a result of which the son of every Iraqi killed by US planes must have pledged to take revenge someday. And they will succeed someday because of one simple reason: the US soldier indulges in the act of terrorism merely on the orders of the politician -- he values his own life at the same time, while the potential terrorist is guided either by passion or deep sense of personal revenge and does not care about giving up his life. And once you stop caring whether you live or die, you can do anything. Any damn thing.Why, 9/11 is an example: a bunch of determined men crushed both the balls of America, the economic superpower.
India should learn from 9/11 before it loses too many people. Nothing, after all, is worth bloodied bodies.