Sunday, November 30, 2008

Guest Post: No Longer Safe At Home

A long-time reader and longer-time friend by the name of Nikhil, native of Mumbai and resident of New York, was in Mumbai during the terrorist attack on the city. Here are his thoughts:

I’m scared. And so are my parents, and my friends, and their friends. Because for the first time, our Bombay has been attacked; not Mumbai – but my Bombay.

For better or for worse, my Bombay consists of a very small part of the actual city - Bandra, Fort, Peddar Road, Malabar Hill, Nepeansea Road, and perhaps a couple of other neighborhoods, and my Bombay only has about 50,000 people in it, if that. For better or for worse, the affluent set here live in a city of their own – not physically demarcated as it is in Karachi (or as I imagine it to be from what I’ve been told), but separate enough in its own right. And today, for the first time, it was that city that was attacked. I don’t mean to lessen the horror of the train attacks of 2006 or even the bomb blasts of 1993, and I definitely don’t intend to discern between the value of a life that was lost at the Taj versus one that was lost on the railroad tracks two years ago – I’m just saying that this is the first time that I, personally, feel targeted.

Everyone I grew up with has some memory at either the Taj or the Oberoi. Everyone. After Honors Day (the day at the end of the school year when those that had excelled in academics were rewarded) every year, my parents took me to the Sunday brunch at Palms (a restaurant at the Oberoi) – an experience I treasured infinitely more than the actual prize itself (a certificate along with a Rs. 25 voucher to Strand Book Store). I’ve been for numerous birthdays to the Golden Dragon, Shamiana and the Sea Lounge. For years and years, Zodiac Grill was the single most expensive restaurant in Bombay, and as a kid, it was always a dream of mine to go there. It represented something special – something adult. Of course, when I finally did eat there, while the meal was delicious, it did not, and could never have, live up to the expectations my 8 year old self had set up. Regardless, it was an institution.

To focus on the more immediate, I landed in Bombay two Fridays ago. My first night, I went to the Yacht Club, Thams and Gordon House, all of which are within a 2 minute walk of the Taj. Two nights after, I was at Joss, five minutes from the Taj. A couple of days later, I watched a movie at Inox – the mall where people were evacuated to from the Oberoi. This past Tuesday, I played basketball a few steps from Leo’s. Putting myself aside, a friend of mine was at Leo’s till 8PM on Wed night. Two other friends were shopping at the Taj till around the same time. A former teacher from my high school lost her life. As did the parents of six kids that currently go there. And my parents’ friend’s uncle. Etc, etc, etc. While thankfully all of my close family and friends are safe, I can’t say the same for tons of acquaintances and their relatives.

To truly understand the toll the attacks have taken on this city, one really needs to differentiate between a bomb blast and what we’ve just been through. Again, I’m not saying bomb blasts aren’t horrific – of course they are, but this was a siege. It went on for three days. And every morning felt like a fresh attack, a new wound. People didn’t leave their houses for two days, and a lot of people still haven’t. I ventured out beyond my immediate neighborhood for the first time since the attacks today – but only because I’m leaving tomorrow. My family and I went to dinner at a restaurant which is normally packed most days of the week. Needless to say, despite it being a Saturday night, we had no trouble getting a table. The roads, while somewhat busy, seemed to lack Bombay’s bustle. This is a city where you could get stuck in a jam well past midnight – but at 9PM on a Saturday night, I didn’t have to yell angrily at an incompetent driver even once. Perhaps it is partly my imagination, but that too tells its own story.

People always talk about how it isn’t safe for girls to stay out in Delhi past a certain hour, and conversely, how Bombay is safe for everyone, practically any hour of the day or night. A close friend of mine is getting married and moving to Delhi soon, and her biggest fear has been just that – Delhi isn’t safe for girls past a certain hour, and when she has visited Delhi, she has physically felt it: that uncomfortable pit in one’s stomach when one is not at ease. She woke up crying this morning because, for the first time in her life, she felt it in Bombay.

I can’t stress enough how weird, and unsettling and scary this is, simply because we haven’t felt it before. What makes it even worse is the ease with which these 20 motherfuckers held the entire city at ransom. And the fact that we don’t know where anywhere between 2 to 5 of them are. What’s to say they aren’t hanging out in an apartment somewhere, waiting for this to tide over before they hit the Marriot, or the Sheraton or any one of ten different targets? Worse still, this attack has a face. With a bomb, one doesn’t get to see the perpetrator. In this case however, we have the chilling images of those two cunts dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, walking around with MP-6s – absolutely maniacal looks on their faces. That was one of the most chilling images I have seen in my life; I had to look away. I want to say that I felt hatred, but I think that’s too strong a word – because then I’m not really sure how to describe what he felt towards us.

On an entirely personal note, over the last few years, I have developed a strong desire to visit Pakistan. All four of my grandparents are from either Karachi or Hyderabad, and I’d really like to see their houses, or at least the sites where they once stood. I’d also like to see the places I’ve heard so much about from my friends – the many phases of Defense, Clifton, the beach, the restaurants and yes, even Nazimabad. I want to see it all so that I can picture what my friends are talking about when they relate stories from their childhood or the last time they were home. A few of my friends have been, and are, getting married, but for one reason or another, I haven’t been able to make any of the weddings thus far. But I pledged to make it soon – either this December, or next summer. Now, I don’t think I can. Obviously I know that my friends had no part to play in any of this, or that the Indian government has proved beyond doubt that Pakistani organizations, state sponsored or not, had anything to do with this, but if it does turn out that these terrorists were somehow helped / trained / funded / anything by a Pakistani organization, I don’t think I could visit until and unless significant steps are taken by the government to truly fight terror. It just wouldn’t feel right. I know that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it means something to me.

I know that the above is a little jumbled but I had a bunch of different thoughts that I wanted to put down, and I sort of just wrote them in that order. Moreover, the jumble sort of reflects the bizarre mix of emotions most of us have gone through – worry, terror, shock, and above all else, disbelief – a complete and utter lack of comprehension. In any case, I don’t have the patience nor the inclination to go back and edit this, because quite frankly, I don’t want to think about it anymore. I’m somewhat lucky, I guess, in that I get to leave this mess behind and resume my life in New York tomorrow – because that’s often what it feels like I lead: two parallel lives – one in the States, and one in Bombay. But the important distinction is that I always come back to this one, not the other way around, because regardless of how many years I spend in the States, or London, or anywhere, Bombay will always be my home. Sadly, I no longer feel safe at home.


AKS said...

This was a sad and moving post.

You highlight an important comparison about the psychological impact of these attacks compared with the impact that a bombing has. But lets also consider the difference in the psychological make up of the attackers. A suicide bombers don't have to watch their victims die, scream in agony and beg for mercy. For three days these guys saw and heard all that and they kept on killing. This was barbaric and inhumane.

And killing people was the entirety of their mission, they didn't really have any demands, the just wanted to kill and prove that they could kill.

Nikhil, I do pray that Pakistan takes further serious measures to go after these bastards and I do hope that you get a chance to visit us here. Sadly I feel, the state has lost control of the monsters it created and I don't really know what can be done and what more "significant steps are taken by the government to truly fight terror," I mean we are now fighting wars in two distinct areas.

Farooq said...

It'll suck not having you here in December yaar. Ahsan's wedding just got a whole lot more boring than it was already going to be.

riddhi said...

i'm the close friend that nikhil talks about in this post -- the one who is moving to delhi soon. nikhil's right, he left, but we're still here. and every boom i hear makes me think the terrorists have returned. i know that you guys in pakistan have had to live with this far longer than we have, but i don't believe it's good enough to say that "the state has lost control of the monsters it created". something MUST be done. how can you people vote in a government like this? how you not say anything when YOUR state creates a 19-year-old crazed enough to take completely innocent lives for three days, day after day? i cannot understand you. i cannot understand farooq who seems to think that nikhil's not coming to pakistan is only going to be "boring". i'm sorry if i sound irrational and overreactive, but for the first time in my life, i'm angry and scared enough to say, THIS cannot go on any more.

supersizeme said...

wait a second here, while i really empathise with the writer as a fellow human, i'm at the same time repulsed.

how can you bring something down to such an individual level, like you're blaming every pakistani out there?
what about the terror attacks by the indian army on my people?
before you point fingers at pakistan think about all your contry's bullying tactics that make me sick to the stomach.
stop being so blind to your contry's own flaws, you have homegrown terror that has nothing whatsoever to do with pakistan.

pakistan is constantly criticised for laying a portion of blame on america when things go belly up (they have a right to) but for the risk of sounding repetitive or naive, we've stopped doing it, maybe you should consider listening to yourselves sometimes - hear what you sound like to us.

oh, and welcome to our world, the real one.

Anonymous said...

I sympathize with a land whose existense is ecclesiastically bound and whose collective consciousness is obsessed with the delusion of persecusion.We don't blame you for what happened here in Mumbai/Bombay. We know that some of your lepers did it...I call them lepers as you don't understand the caste system and untouchability and casteism is what drove you towards that country in the first place...We will not embrace the American way and smoke your little rats out of their have plenty of them and they're eating you hollow! We'll just sit back and wait for our geriatric leadership to decide on the political significance of it all and promptly apply for our visas to the US ...where we'll wait for the PMs invitation to the pravasi bharatiya divas...a high trp programme on PTV I'm told...

supersizeme said...

precisely, you should leave pakistan out of it then and concentrate on smoking out your very own rats, which you're practically swimming in!

oh wait.. too late.. you've ate them all!?

Asfandyar said...

supersizeme: I hardly think we've stopped blaming the US for each and every ill that seems to plague the state and our societies. I'll also agree to an extent with Nikhil and Riddhi (but to an extent) that we, as individuals, are doing and have done VERY little in the way of bringing about any positive change in this repulsive ideology that has grasped not only our country but our religion.

So many times we'll trot out the usual 'all muslims aren't terrorists', but the fact of that matter is very few of us are doing ANYTHING to disprove that stereotype. Instead of saying "yeah, we do have a problem. lets try to think of ways to fix it", we get incredibly defensive and take offense at anyone lumping us in with terrorists.

Anonymous said...

We didnt ATE(sic) our rats already...they escaped to your good land...they're now eating you hollow...don't you get it?
And as far as eating goes, you don't have too much left yourselves do you? You're practically survivin on impecunity's bowl from the west aren't you?
I agree that the blame game is the easiest to've been playin it quite well in fact. To claim responsibility where you aren't involved and to shirk it where you are is a beautiful paradigm made popular by your esteemed leaders..past present and future..if you have one...or mebbe some general mite enslave you again..they've been doin it quite regularly manage to lose the people who could bring solutions...Ms Bhutto for eg. and create problems where you should have none.. What if this lead to a full scale war?

Ahsan said...


I can understand your anger but I cannot understand your naivete. You say "something MUST be done." What would you have done? "Something" is not terribly descriptive. Pakistan has lost thousands of its troops and citizens in this war, not to mention the instability that is concomitant with it. You seem to be either unaware of this reality, or have chosen to overlook it.

As for voting in a government that espouses violence, I would say two things, one more churlish than the other. First, this is not the first time that a government that sponsors violence against others' citizens (Bush in '04) or even its own (Narendra Modi in 2002) has been voted in. Second, the government of Pakistan is *not* responsible for this violence. Both Asif Zardari and Musharraf favored, and continue to favor, rapprochement with India. Zardari, for instance, risked a considerable backlash from the military when he made his off-the-cuff statement on nuclear policy last week. So the question of "how can you people vote in a government like this?" is fairly nonsensical in my view.

As for the accusation that we do not "say anything when YOUR state creates a 19-year-old crazed enough to take completely innocent lives for three days", all I will say is we DO say things against state-sponsored militarism and political violence, and we continue to do so. You clearly have not read this blog for very long, so I will let that one slide.




That was a pair of idiotic comments.



Anonymous said...

My question is DID YOU GUYS VOTE IN THE GOVT AT ALL? There seem to be 2 Pakistans which scereams outrage at such happenings and the other that votes in the governments clouded by their Ant- India Anti-America fundamentalism. We face a similar scenario in India...although the gulf here is quite different..Time to stand up as a generation friends..time to be counted..time to voice our opinions as citizens demanding a terror free safe world..not one where religion and borders dominate the consciousness. May the almighty bless us all...

Sahar said...

Hey Nikhil-I'm glad to know that you and your family are safe. And what you are feeling right now is a terrible feeling to have. But unfortunately Pakistani's have been feeling it for a long time. However, I’m not writing this to start a blame game or point fingers. All I know is that it’s sad to think of home as unsafe- a feeling that I had when I was in Karachi last winter when Bhutto was assassinated and this summer when my house was broken into and ransacked.

I do hope you change your mind about visiting Karachi and attending the weddings this December though. If you don’t, I feel that in some way you have played into the hands of these assholes who want to make sure we are always on opposite sides when we’re not.

Have a safe trip back.

Riddhi: you’re naivete is disheartening and shocking.

Ahsan said...


Are you implying that THIS Pakistan did NOT vote for our Dear Leader My Lord Purveyor Of All Goodness And Joy Asif God Ali Genius Zardari Great Bhutto?

By the way, a couple of commenters - clearly Indian - have now made the observation that an anti-American and anti-Indian government was voted in. I don't know where this notion came from, so I will reiterate: the PPP (or more accurately, its senior leadership) is more pro-American and pro-Indian than any other government in Pakistan's history, at considerable cost to its political capital. For whatever it's worth.

goc said...

"Sadly, I no longer feel safe at home."

I am hoping when you get a little more time and distance from these sad events, that you will re-evaluate this posts of yours and some of the privileged self-involved shit you are saying in it.

The fact that you felt safe at home for the first 20 something years of your life probably puts you in a very small global minority. Sucks I know that feeling safe at home is more of a privilege than a right these days, but there it is.

This whole OMG my Bombay has been attacked mentality definitely smacks of the US response to 9/11. "OMG I cant believe they attacked us here at home ...!" And I am increasingly worried that the response by some segments of Indian society, especially those with power and influence is turning into a horrible deja vu of the US response to 9/11. Look where that has gotten all of us. And not to say you are alone in this, I remember posting a very similar comment about the reaction of the writers on this blog when the Marriot bombing in Islamabad happened.

Here's a interesting article by another expatriate Indian.

Instead of chiding us Pakistani for sitting on our asses which we definitely do too often, read some of his specific concerns about patriot act-esque policies being enacted in your country. And then instead of returning to your life in New York, maybe try and do something about it. I am assuming you are part of the educated, elite in India and if this is YOUR reaction then I am scared for the future of the sub-continent.

Also, this is probably the first and last time I will link to an Irshad Manji post but she has a very comprehensive list of some of the terror prior to Wednesday that was going on in India. I know it probably does'nt concern YOUR India but give it a read.

goc said...

One more:

supersizeme said...

ahsan; ok, i'll admit, maybe my comments didn't make any sense as right now i'm panicked given the current state of affairs.

how can we forget the indian govt. track record? like how the indian army shelled parts of pakistani kashmir straight after the 9/11 attacks? we're about to go through something much more vicious now!

my comment actually stemmed from the mindsets of friends, family, acquaintances of young pakistanis who share your view on 'stop blaming outsiders, the problem's inside' which sounds reasonable, but also a bit 'ansar burney'. every twit knows it takes two to tango.
and what makes you think i don't criticise extremists from within the country?

in a bid to sound unbiased you've just shown a lot of ignorance.

ok, i'm curious, please identify who exactly you deem is the common 'enemy' here, the root cause of all this?

i presume you'd say it's the extremist, right?

please consider the thoughts of the 'uneducated masses' ie. the average pakistani, ie. the pakhtuns in nwfp (no i'm not one of them), the ones who simply want to lead a peaceful life, earn a decent living, pray 5 times a day, look after their family. i met a young girl from swat who was talking to me about her experiences in broken urdu, she said she remembers a nearby village attacked by a group believed to be al-qaeda, turns out the assailants were not al qaeda but the american army in local attire.
now you can either laugh at that, undermining the girl, saying she believes whatever anti-america propaganda she's been fed OR there's a possibility she's right?

before we start judging people like me for trying to speak up against external aggression, please have all bases covered, it's a sensitive issue, we need to think with a little more sensitivity. it's not really making anything easier for pakistan if we're bickering amongst ourselves in a bid to suck out the enemy.
i cant help thinking it's becoming a fight between the rich and poor, where the poor are echoing imran khan's thoughts (for example) and the rich are the exact opposite - is that right?
(i wont say educated/uneducated as that's a tad irrepresentative)

urgh! forget it, i dont expect anything i have to say will get through to you guys, i might as well quit it.

back to the topic, i dont agree with india blaming pakistan, and then threatening us with this war in-progress, the evidence they have against us is shitty. it's nothing but plain bullying.

thanks anon, what WOULD the world do without your attention to spelling-grammar accuracy? seriously!

Rabia said...

Has anyone read this article?! and is there any other source for this news other than Hamid Mir? (i.e. I am hoping this did not just happen):

"ISLAMABAD: All main militant groups fighting in Fata, from South Waziristan to Bajaur and from Mohmand to the Khyber Agency, have contacted the government through different sources after the Mumbai bombings and have offered a ceasefire if the Pakistan Army also stops its operations.

And as a positive sign that this ceasefire offer may be accepted, the Pakistan Army has, as a first step, declared before the media some notorious militant commanders, including Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Fazlullah, as “patriotic” Pakistanis.

These two militant commanders are fighting the Army for the last four years and have invariably been accused of terrorism against Pakistan but the aftermath of the Mumbai carnage has suddenly turned terrorists into patriots.

A top security official told a group of senior journalists on Saturday: “We have no big issues with the militants in Fata. We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue.”"

we are well and truly screwed.

Ahsan said...

Come on, Rabia. It's Hamid Mir. Just believe the diametrical opposite of what he says, and you're more likely to be closer to the truth.

I don't want to move the discussion off topic, but can someone tell me how Hamid Mir still has a job? He must have some VERY compromising photographs/videos in his possession.

Raza said...

Pakistanis have had a hard time sympathizing these past few days. Be honest: although you let out an 'OMG' or a 'that looks terrible' while watching Geo newscasts, you snarled under your breath, 'they had it coming,' or, 'whatEV…the Marriot was worse.' Why are we chastising Indians for feeling angry and afraid right now? Have we Pakistanis developed such thick skins that we can't even grieve with our neighbors? Have we lost our humanity?

Not quite. Nikhil and Riddhi--we may be coming off as insensitive and unsympathetic, but there are two important reasons why we’re a little reserved with our condolences.

Admittedly it's a little crude and overused, but the fact remains that Pakistan deals with this stuff every day. No one sympathizes, no one ever grieves our dead. The attention and sympathy the Mumbai bombings are receiving dwarf the odd Reuters report talking about Pakistani troops being knocked off by the dozens in the tribal belt, or of US drones killing scores of innocent Pakistanis every time they hit a high value target in Bajaur. I have sunbathed and downed paper bagged vodka by the Marriot pool in Islamabad—-bombed a few weeks ago; I’ve spent childhood summers at the Serena in Swat—-shot at a few months ago; closes relatives and friends have married at the Karachi Sheraton-— bombed a few years ago; I myself was in Islamabad last summer and almost shot dead outside Lal Masjid while reporting on the unrest. Relatives have been killed, friends lives have been destroyed. And I don’t even live in Pakistan. Our people are getting killed day by day in this fight, and no one gives a shit. In a normal world, Indians would be asking Pakistanis how to deal with this trauma, not blame them for it. So do excuse us for being a just A LITTLE bitter.

Also, Pakistan didn't do anything. Blaming the state and people of Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks is like blaming Germany for 9/11—- yes, some of the hijackers might have coordinated logistics and lodged in a Hamburg apartment for a few months, but the Federal Republic of Germany and the people of Germany certainly weren't aiding and abetting any Osama Bin Ladens. This might sound like a false analogy because reportedly the Mumbai terrorists were technically from Pakistan—-but these aren't people motivated by their Pakistani-ness, they aren't acting for Pakistan’s benefinit. What their passport says is irrelevant. And surely India is well aware of the difficulties of monitoring the movements of Maoists, Tamils, Assamese, local Muslim extremists and homegrown Hindu terrorists. You can't just put dog collars on these guys and expect to know where they are and what they're doing. What brought about the Mumbai attacks is the perfect storm of history, for which Pakistan is certainly not solely responsible.

So, calling on Pakistan to fix the problem may seem appropriate right now, and I understand your frustration. We’ve been there before, and we know: it's shitty. But really, all I or any other Pakistani can offer this:

My heart goes out to everyone in Mumbai—to all my many friends who live there, to all their families, I offer my sincerest condolences, and hope that they are safe. I am sad and mournful. I hope that we catch the motherfuckers responsible, and kill them. I am on your side, not theirs. As Pakistanis, I am sure we will do everything in our power to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

But boys, this is one ride you're gonna have to come along strap in.

supersizeme said...

oops! my comment was meant to be addressed to asfandyar... and in case the spell-check police (aka. anonymous commentor) is on my tail, i do apologise if i missed a comma or something somewhere - guv'nor!

Anonymous said...

Apology accepted plebian.

Nikhil said...

While a lot of the comments are besides the point and over the top, but i did want to respond to a couple.


Given that the point of the post was to express how I, personally, felt after the attacks, it's bound to be self-involved - by definition.

I also agree with you that feeling safe, sadly, is a privilege. However, I don't understand why I'm not allowed to mourn the loss of that privilege.

Also, I don't know where this sentiment has arisen in numerous comments that I'm blaming single Pakistanis for this, or that I'm advocating war on Pakistan. I just said that if it is proven that the LeT or another Pakistani organization is found to have backed these attacks, I wouldn't want to visit until the government does more to fight them. And no, I don't know what that "more" is. As AKS very validly points out, the government may well have lost control of these monsters and IS fighting a war on two fronts. But, Ahsan's immediate defense to India, admittedly hurriedly, blaming Pakistan for the attacks, was that the relationship between the govt and terrorist organizations is an open question, at best. And that, for me, isn't good enough. Be it due to inability, or an as-yet not-really-serious desire or whatever it may be, I wouldn't feel right coming to Pakistan while that is the case (again, IF it is proven that these guys were backed by a pakistani terrorist organization).
Lastly, Ahsan mentioned to me that I was giving the impression that this is the worst thing that's happened to India. That wasn't my intention at all. Gujarat was clearly much worse, and while i was obviously greatly saddened by the events there, i was not nearly as personally affected. The train blasts in Bombay, while horrific as well, were not in my opinion as terrifying as these. And before you run around accusing me of being an elitist - i traveled by train for two years while i lived here, and i take the train fairly regularly when i'm down on vacation too. during the communal riots in the early '90s, i was only 8 or 9 years old, and didn't really grasp what was going on around me. i remember staying holed up at home for 2 or more weeks, but to their credit, my parents made sure i didnt have cause to feel unsafe. anyway, for the hundredth time, all i'm saying is that these attacks affected me the most; it's not a competition about who feels worst about what.

Raza, I agree with most of your post and appreciate your empathy, but i don't understand your analogy at all. IF one assumes that Lashkar or someone similar was behind this (something i clearly state in my post, which seems to have been happily ignored by most), then your analogy would only work if Al Qaeda were German. Feel free to correct me if you think i'm wrong.

Raza said...

Nikhil: You're assuming Lashkar is an extension of the Pakistani state. It's not. My point was that Lashkar or any other group has roughly as much to do with the Pakistani state and its people as Al Qaeda does to Germany and its people. Admittedly, your sentiment of not wanting to visit Pakistan is understandable on an emotional level--I would probably feel the same--but it doesn't make sense to us Pakistanis because of the sharp disconnect between us and the militants on every level. I know you're not directly blaming us, but in saying you won't come to Pakistan, where we would welcome you and any other Indian with open arms, you IMPLY we were are somehow responsible. It's THAT implication that we're protesting.

On related note, Lashkar has in fact denied involvement--why would they if the point was to highlight the plight of Kashmiris? On top of that, the ISI, which necessarily would had to have to provided at least logistical support to launch such an ambition operation, is arguably at its weakest point in Pakistan's history--it seems improbable that they would be able help out under these circumstances.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry.....i had pointed this in some other post as well......but i would like to reiterate this....

Most of the posts here indicate in a way that pakistan government or ISI is not involved in this entire situation in mumbai ...... fair.....i will accept it for a moment.....but pakistan has been harbouring....dawood for more than 10 years the last issued passport as noted by interpol is been from pakistan....if pakistan government is so clean why not hand him back to India.....