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About Amit Varma

Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.




Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

Recent entries

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28 November, 2008

This City With Arms Wide Open

Before I go back into hibernation, a few links and thoughts.

My friend and former colleague Sambit Bal has a beautiful piece on Cricinfo about these attacks, echoing the feelings I’d expressed in my earlier post of how it seems perverse to think of anything else, do anything else, while this mayhem is happening. He writes:

I was on the streets of Bombay covering the communal riots in 1992, and the serial bomb blasts in 1993. I have seen a mob with swords chase a man and sever his arm from his body; I have seen rioters set an old man alight after garlanding him with car tyres; and I have faced the prospect of being burnt alive myself. For days I left home kissing my small child goodbye with thoughts of the worst. Those days return to haunt me sometimes even today.

But somehow I felt I understood what was happening then. I couldn’t relate to it, but I understood the thirst for retaliation and revenge, the hatred and the frenzy that temporarily consumed ordinary people. I even wondered about a foreseeable future when I could sit down with some of the rioters and talk about what drove them to such madness.

But this is simply beyond my comprehension. Every time I see the photograph of the young man - who looks not a lot older than my son - dressed in jeans and t-shirt, carrying a machine gun as casually as a satchel on his shoulder, bearing a sinister glee in his eyes, I am reminded of Barack Obama’s words about the killers of 9/11: “My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another’s heart, cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with such serene satisfaction.”

*

Another good friend, Prem Panicker, has been putting up some fine posts at his blog. Here’s the latest.

His Twitter updates are also exceptional, drawing both from the live coverage of his colleagues at the scene of action, and from what he sees on TV. For example:

TV LOL: “Intermittent firing has been going on non-stop at the Taj”.

Indeed, Mumbai’s Twitter users have been magnificent over the last two days. If you’re one of them: Salute.

*

This report pissed me off:

Sources said though the plane carrying NSG Commandos was ready by midnight, it could not take off due to the delayed arrival of a VIP, who wanted to accompany them to Mumbai, at the Delhi airport. Worse, the Commandos had to wait for a vehicle at the Mumbai airport until morning.

Also, I see no pressing reason why Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, LK Advani and other political VIPs had to visit the victims at this time, diverting precious resources at a time when the police were already stretched. Why now?

I’d blogged about this VIP syndrome in 2005, when I was travelling through Tamil Nadu after the tsunami. Disasters come and go; our VIPs stay the same.

*

People are calling this Mumbai’s 9/11. In the sense that this city will never be the same again, I agree. But in terms of what we do about it, I’m not sure.

Once it was clear that 9/11 was caused by al-Qaeda, the US went after them, not bothering with niceties like their geographical location. From the information available at the time of writing this, it seems that we can soon be equally certain of who’s behind this. So what will we do?

*

Ramesh Srivats captures some WTF moments from the last two days here. But, as he points out, it’s as scary as it is funny. An excerpt:

Commandos are landing on the Nariman Building. They seem to be tip-toeing down. They are communicating to each other through hand signals. Secrecy & surprise are paramount. And NDTV is showing this live!!! With informative commentary on how many commandos have landed and so on. Perhaps NDTV’s research has shown that terrorists only watch cartoon network during missions.

*

For decades now, we’ve taken it for granted that our army is better equipped and trained than our police. Our army defends our country from outside attack; our police looks after local law and order, which demands less of them.

But it’s become clear now that that old paradigm has changed. As long as we are threatened by terrorists, we will remain in a state of suspended war, and we need to invest in bringing our cops up to date with urban warfare, in terms of both training and equipment.

The heroism they have displayed in the last two days makes it clear that our police can match the best forces in the world in terms of valour and spirit. But it’s time now to back them up so that if terrorists attack Mumbai again, we won’t need to call in the army.

*

Some quick links to end this post:

One of my friends mentioned in an email that perhaps our security forces should ask themselves one question when they are faced with such situations: “WWID:
What Would Israelis Do?” On that note, The Jerusalem Post relays criticism of our security forces by Israeli defense officials.

Check out Sadanand Dhume’s piece in The Wall Street Journal titled “India’s Antiterror Blunders”. In his piece he describes how “the Indian approach to terrorism has been consistently haphazard and weak-kneed.”

My friend Salil Tripathi has a piece in Far Eastern Economic Review in which he writes” “If Bombay maintains its stride, if it continues to exude its characteristic warmth, it is in spite of those who rule it, and not because of them.”

And in “The Longest Day”, Vir Sanghvi writes that “even before the post-mortems begin and the excuses are offered up, three points need to be made.” I don’t always agree with Sanghvi’s analysis—but this is an excellent piece, and he is dead right on all three counts.

*

There have been many things I’ve wanted to write over the last couple of days, and many pieces I’ve wanted to link to, but I’ve felt too unsettled and disturbed to put it all together. This city is my home not just because I live here now, but because it embraced me when I first came here. I often say that Mumbai is the only city in India where you can land up from anywhere and feel at home right away. Indeed, if the men behind this mayhem, who allegedly travelled here from Karachi, came here as tourists, they too would feel at home in no time. And I know, despite the pain and the rage that all Mumbaikars no doubt share with me today, that this will not change. Our arms will still be open—but hopefully, so will our eyes.

Blogging might be slow for the next couple of days for the reasons explained here. Subscribing to my RSS feed is one way to stay updated.

Posted by Amit Varma in India | News | Personal | Politics | Small thoughts

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