02 December 2008

A Crying Shame

It was an unending, mind-numbing, relentless 60 hours in the end. Almost every minute of it was unbelievable, I kept thinking it’s got to end now but it didn’t. it went on and on. I found out about the carnage within 45 minutes of it starting. The first reaction was déjà vu, “oh no, not a series of bomb blasts again”. Obviously had no idea that it was going to be worse, much much worse.

I could relive the entire horror and recount the series of events, and my reactions but I suspect they will be imprinted in my mind for the rest of my life. Seeing grenades go off in the lobby of the Trident-Oberoi, where I had spent a few hours just the day before, was a horror, it was shock to the power of 100. Watching the terrorists running around downtown Bombay like it was their playground was annoying, was shocking, was “…..” – the English language does not have the right word for the emotion. Gunfire from within buildings that I frequented and loved was a new feeling, a new emotion. I felt pain when the twin towers in New York went down because I visited there just 2 months before 9/11, it felt close because of that. But these were places I went to every other week. These places meant something to me, had become part of my life in the last 7 years that I have lived in Bombay and have come to love it like my HOME.

I must admit I had tears in my eyes at several times while watching the horror unfold in those 3 days, this can’t be happening. This is inhuman, how can we allow this to happen to people, regular people, people like you and me. When did civil society come to this?

The post-mortem and mudslinging has begun and while a lot of it is being done by the politicians, regular people and “imminent” personalities are not averse to it either. Emotions are running high and people are saying and doing things they will regret later. (Some politicians already are regretting it!)

And while it is completely natural for emotions to be uncontrollable and screeching voices are inevitable, it is also not smart to lose sight of the bigger picture. War on Pakistan cannot be the answer. The US waged war on Afghanistan and ostensibly Iraq to fight terrorism and we all know where that has ended up. Do we really want to trade innocent deaths for soldier deaths. And let’s not forget Pakistan, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, is a nuclear state. The problem of Terrorism is not something that came up in days, weeks or months. IT has been festering for years and unfortunately cannot be wished away or gotten rid of with quick-fixes. It will take years to rid ourselves of this scourge and the reality is that it is in many ways a war of attrition.

The other terrible trap that we must be wary of is peaking with our outrage and anger in the immediate aftermath of the attack which is bound to flame out. It is absolutely essential that the outrage be sustained and lasting. The pattern of the past has been that we have all reacted but not responded.

What matters is not that we have a solution, what matters is that we must make progress. What irks the typical Indian on the street and I count myself amongst those Indians is that we are not making progress against terrorism in India. What irks us is that we are getting worse in terms of safety and security against indiscriminate killing. Real concrete steps are required and while many (most?) have lost faith in the government, I for one have not. I believe change has to be driven through the establishment and not around it. Baying for politicians blood is simply futile and akin to axing your own feet. Hot pursuit of terrorists in camps in POK may be part of this plan but cannot and should not be the backbone of it. Action just for the sake of action is not the answer. Who will come up with this plan, certainly not me, certainly not the common Indian – we are neither adept not trained to do so.

It is our responsibility to hold our elected representatives responsible for their actions and most importantly for the RESULTS of such actions. Putting together action groups that can work towards doing this is constructive. Signing on-line petitions, lighting candles, changing facebook status to reflect our outrage, forwarding emails expressing shock, vowing not to vote will all help each of us to assuage our own anger but will it do anything else – I doubt it.

The need of the hour is to RESPOND not REACT.


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