How a bruised Mumbai morphed into the most sanitised and uninteresting version of itself after 26/11
Brace yourselves. November is just around the corner. Indian print and television media will soon go into overdrive about the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Everybody will want in on the 10-year anniversary of one of the longest-running and most televised terror attacks in history. Pessimists will argue that Mumbai changed forever after those terrible days. Optimists will aver that nothing, not even a terror attack, has managed to shake Mumbai’s undying spirit. Television channels will air all manners of programmes on the attacks, dissecting and reliving those days and their aftermath with morbid fascination. Someone will find some way to make this a Congress versus BJP issue. By the time the hoopla ebbs, many of us will go through fresh bouts of PTSD, like it was just yesterday that Mondy’s was bullet-ridden, Colaba smelled like a crematory, and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was in shambles. It’s noteworthy that even now, 10 years later, there has been no significant novel, film, or play on the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. (Ram Gopal Varma, having been allowed a ringside view of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, came out with — wait for it — The Attacks of 26/11 , a tame docu-drama that was eviscerated by critics and sank without a trace.) What is there to say? There have been innumerable attempts at understanding the whys of the attacks. But the hows of the attacks left little to the imagination. Mumbai’s 2008 terror attacks were the hard existential slap that permanently corrected the city’s mental self-distortions. Our flirtations with the dark side had brought forth something veritably satanic. From that point on, Mumbai just wanted to remain brightly lit and well-guarded. A sunny, earnest, and decidedly non-noir avatar of Mumbai was on display immediately following the terror attacks. Thousands marched at Gateway of India on December 3, 2008, waving banners and shouting slogans. Citizens raged against the attacks and they bemoaned the administrative insensitivity and mishandling. Many Mumbaikars came just to have a good scream. Commentators were bewildered by this demonstration of public activism in a city infamous for holding its tongue. The protesters were probably more bewildered — by their own effectiveness. Following public outcry, several office-holders in the Congress-led Maharashtra government gave in their resignations, including Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. In the attacks carried out by 10 non-Indian nationals, 164 people died. Deshmukh stepped down to own moral responsibility for the loss of life and property on his watch. In retrospect, this was a quaint and gratuitously decent move by the Congress. Deshmukh could have followed the lead of another State’s Chief Minister under whose watch, six years earlier, over 1,000 people died and roughly 2,500 were injured in one of the most televised communal riots in Indian history. We all know what that State’s Chief Minister did, and didn’t do. But such were the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and their aftermath that they jolted us all out of character. Mumbaikars shrugged off their chronic indifference and took to the streets. Seasoned politicians grew a conscience. And a bruised and battered city began morphing into the most sanitised and uninteresting version of itself.