Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai - One year before the terrorist strikes

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) Nov. 25 were terrible, and hit home with me, as I was in many of the same spots almost exactly a year ago.

The current evidence points to the gunmen as having come by boat and landing at the Gateway of India.

My first nights in India were spent in the Hotel Suba Palace, which is a two-minute walk from the Gateway. When I took a day trip to Elephanta Island, home of a complex of caves dating back to the 600s, I embarked from the Gateway, which was built to commemorate the British Royal Family’s visit to India in 1924.
The next target for the terrorists was the Taj Mahal Hotel. Close to the Gateway of India, the hotel is one of Mumbai’s icons. Resplendent in fancy decorations and excellent restaurants, it was out of my price range, but the story behind it was fascinating.

An Indian man wanted to stay in one of the nicer hotels. The British operators of the hotel said it was only for whites, so he built the Taj Mahal Hotel next door and eventually put them out of business, then bought their building and made it the “cheap” rooms of his.

On my second night in India, my friends and I ate at what is probably one of the nicest restaurants in India – the Golden Dragon inside the Taj Mahal Hotel.

With excellent Indian wine, a round of cocktails, an appetizer plate of prawns and main dishes of Beijing duck, lemon chicken and lamb, we certainly left satisfied, albeit lighter in the wallet.

Another target for the terrorists was the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station, also called the Victoria Terminus, or VT Station. The building’s exterior is one of the nicest in Mumbai, and combines several styles of architecture. While I didn’t go inside the station, I did spend a fair amount of time walking around it.

On my visit to India, I was struck by how peacefully the major religions lived among each other, without overt tension. In Goa, one of my friends, a Christian, was shopping for his father, a Hindu, at a woodcarver’s shop. The Muslim woodcarver suggested an idol of a Hindu god, explaining the god’s significance and why he should choose that one over any others for his father.

I watched Christians from an orphanage caroling through Goa’s streets, and everyone was making plans to celebrate the Muslim holiday that was fast approaching. My overriding thought was that I wished the religious sects could get along so well everywhere.

Though India has been home to much religious infighting, I get the impression that most of it is due to the extremists on both sides, as well as the tension between India and Pakistan.

When I saw the attacks on TV, I was shocked. Terrorist attacks, by their nature, are always shocking, but the fight in Mumbai took place somewhere I have actually been. The bombings of the London metro system came with a similar feeling, but even though I had used the metro many times while I was there, it didn’t come as close as seeing the attacks in Mumbai.

After all, I had eaten in the hotel, stood at the Gateway of India and walked along the grounds of the Chhatrapati Shivaji station. It was only a year ago that I was there, and seeing all those places I can still remember vividly now being a war zone just makes me angry and sad. Had they attacked a military target, I would have disagreed with it, but at least I would have had some respect for their courage. As it is, they’re just a bunch of cowards, and in using those sorts of tactics, I can’t imagine they will ever win.

1 comment:

devidas said...

Interesting. Really.