Four on Friday: Mumbai on my Mind

22 Jul

I TOOK last Friday off (sorry, dear readers!) in honor of Jatin’s birthday. But I’m back now, with four new things for you to read/discuss/chew over for this week.

1. I was sitting at home, sipping my morning Nescafe, when I saw it. On BBC, just before they took a break, the anchor announced that there had been three bomb blasts back home (see photos here). I waited, coffee cooling on the table, for more details. Frustratingly, they had none. Google News had no additional information. I left for work, dialing rapidly. Reliance wouldn’t connect. I tried calling directly. All lines into this country are busy, a tinny female voice announced. I was getting frantic. It took me 15 minutes to reach work, 15 minutes before my father called me to say that he and Mom were at Metro, they were ok, and he would call me later.

It’s at moments like these when you really feel the distance that separates you from your loved ones. Phone lines are jammed, email is no good, and nothing can substitute for seeing your family in flesh and blood. (As I write this, news trickles in of a bomb blast in Oslo. Norway! Who explodes bombs in Norway!? So far they’re saying that only one person was killed, but that’s one person too many.)

Mumbai's Opera House neighborhood, where one of three bombs exploded on July 13, 2011

Mumbai's Opera House neighborhood, where one of three bombs exploded on July 13, 2011

Mumbai is too used to terror attacks. It began in the days when Mumbai was still Bombay. I remember being in the seventh standard, in school on a weekday, when the first big bomb blasts happened back in 1993. We had no idea what was going on, except that our teachers announced that we were all being sent home because it wasn’t safe. The riots had just happened a few months earlier, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and everyone was on edge.

And through it all, through the destruction and debris that followed the eight terror attacks that have struck my city, people got up and got back to work, taking the trains the day after bombs had ripped them apart. Newspaper editorials lauded the “indomitable” Mumbai spirit that allows us Mumbaikars to get on with their lives, to not be cowed. And there is indeed something resilient about my home town, though out of necessity, not choice. When you’re so poor that if you don’t work, you don’t eat, you don’t have the luxury of candle marches and shouting matches on TV shows. You heal as best you can, grieve as best you can, and then get back to work.

Last week, my old editor from my TimeOut days, Naresh Fernandes, wrote this New Yorker piece that asks, “What Mumbai Spirit?”

Writing the day after the attacks, Naresh notes:

that cliché was notably absent in the newspapers and on TV. In fact, for the first time, Mumbai citizens were expressing an antipathy towards that phrase. Perhaps they were finally mindful that politicians who had praised the spirit of Mumbai had used this presumed resilience as an excuse to absolve themselves of the need to take the difficult decisions necessary to actually make the city safer and more livable.

2. Speaking of bomb blasts, can anyone forget the shameful blot that was the Indian TV channels’ coverage of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai that left more than 160 dead? There was sensationalism, there were rumors paraded around as facts and never corrected once it was known they were false, there was the blow-by-blow reporting of rescue operations that put the special forces teams and the hostages at risk — it was a disaster. (Read Barkha Dutt’s response to the criticism here.)

Front page of an issue of DNA India

Front page of an issue of DNA India

The TV channels weren’t as bad this time around, though they weren’t great either. But a July 16 DNA India op-ed by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy is just vile. (I don’t want to send traffic to DNA by linking back to it, so I will just quote as much of it as I can stomach before the poison becomes overwhelming.) It starts:

The terrorist blast in Mumbai on July 13, 2011, requires decisive soul-searching by the Hindus of India. Hindus cannot accept to be killed in this halal fashion, continuously bleeding every day till the nation finally collapses.

And then it gets worse.

Fanatic Muslims consider Hindu-dominated India “an unfinished chapter of Islamic conquests”. All other countries conquered by Islam 100% converted to Islam within two decades of the Islamic invasion. Undivided India in 1947 was 75% Hindu even after 800 years of brutal Islamic rule. That is jarring for the fanatics.

In one sense, I do not blame the Muslim fanatics for targeting Hindus. I blame Hindus who have taken their individuality permitted in Sanatan Dharma to the extreme. Millions of Hindus can assemble without state patronage for the Kumbh Mela, completely self-organised, but they all leave for home oblivious of the targeting of Hindus in Kashmir, Mau, Melvisharam and Malappuram and do not lift their little finger to help organise Hindus. If half the Hindus voted together, rising above caste and language, a genuine Hindu party would have a two-thirds majority in Parliament and the assemblies.

The first lesson to be learnt from the recent history of Islamic terrorism against India and for tackling terrorism in India is that the Hindu is the target and that Muslims of India are being programmed by a slow reactive process to become radical and thus slide into suicide against Hindus. It is to undermine the Hindu psyche and create the fear of civil war that terror attacks are organised.

It goes on in this vein for many more paragraphs, spewing hate and bigotry and communalism with every word. It is an outrage that the editor of DNA India, a national Indian daily, gave 1,251 words to Swamy. After the blogosphere erupted (here and here, h/t to Shivam Vij whose post first alerted me to the piece), and its Letter to the Editor column was deluged by angry readers, DNA published several counterpoints to Swamy’s “analysis” two days later. But I have yet to see an apology from the paper’s editor-in-chief, Aditya Sinha, or an explanation for why he published Swamy’s vitriol in the first place. His most recent column, published on July 17, the day after Swamy’s, didn’t mention it at all. You can send a letter to Sinha expressing your opinion at asinha at dnaindia dot net.

3. Kafila takes on the Delhi police, who claimed to have “solved” the Mumbai blasts case after listening to a 60-second phone call. ‘Nuff said.

A still from Rabbi's Bulla ki Jaana

A still from Rabbi's Bulla ki Jaana

4. All this talk of bombs and terrorism attacks and city spirit and patriotism brings to mind one of my favorite songs by Rabbi Shergill, best known for Bulla ki Jaana and Tere Bin, from his first album, Rabbi. It’s called Bilqis – Jinhe Naaz Hai, and it’s from Avengi Ja Nahin, his second album, which came out in June 2008, five months before the terror attacks that November.

Before you watch the video (and note the changing images on the screen in the background), here’s a bit of context for the stories. Bilqis Yakuq Rasool is a Muslim woman who was gang-raped in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 and her family massacred. Satyendra Dubey was a civil engineer working on the “Golden Quadrilateral,” the network of highways meant to link India in the north, south, east and west. Discovering massive corruption, he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister’s office about it, naming the companies involved. He asked for his name to be kept secret. It wasn’t, and a year later, he was murdered. Manju Nathan, a sales manager at the Indian Oil Corporation, sealed a petrol pump in Lakhimpur district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh for adulteration, and was killed for doing his job. Navleen Kumar was a social worker who tried to help adivasis whose land had been taken away by politicians and corrupt developers. On June 19, 2002, she was stabbed 19 times and killed while she was walking her dogs. The “Jinhe Naaz Hai” reference is from a song in the famous Guru Dutt film, Pyaasa.

I love this song so much I’m going to paste the lyrics here, in Hindi and English.

Mera naam Bilqis Yakub Rasool            
Mujhse hui bas ek hi bhool            
Ki jab dhhundhhte thhe vo Ram ko            
To maen kharhi thhi rah mein            

Pehle ek ne puchha na mujhe kuchh pata thha    
Dujey ko bhi mera yehi javab thha            
Fir itno ne puchha ki mera ab saval hai ki        

Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan the        
Jinhe naaz hai vo kahan hain            

Mera naam shriman Satyendra Dubey        
Jo kehna thha vo keh chukey            
Ab parhey hain rah mein                
Dil mein liye ik goli                

Bas itna kasur ki hamne likha thha            
Vo sach jo har kisi ki zuban thha            
Par sach yahan ho jatey hain zahriley        

Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan the        
Jinhe naaz hai vo kahan hain                

Mujhe kehte hain anna Manjunath            
Maine dekhi bhatakti ek laash            
Zamir ki beech sarhak Lakhimpur Kherhi        

Adarsh phasan jahan naaron mein            
Aur chor bharey darbaron mein            
Vahan maut akhlaq ki hai ik khabar baasi        

Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan hain        
Jinhe naaz hai vo kahan hain                

Mazha nau aahe Navleen Kumar            
Unnees june unnees var                
Unnees unnees unnees unnees                
Unnees vaar                

Unnees unnees unnees unnees                
Unnees unnees unnees unnees                
Unnees unnees unnees unnees                
Unnees vaar                    

Looto dehaat kholo bazaar                
Nallasopara aur Virar                
Chheeno zameen hamse hamein            
Bhejo pataal                    

Jinhe naaz hai hind par vo kahan hain        
Jinhe naaz hai vo kahan hain   

In English:

My name is Bilqis Yakub Rasool
I committed just one mistake
That I stood in their way
When they were looking for Ram

First, one asked me but I knew nothing
Then another but my answer was the same
Then so many that now I have a question

Where are those who are proud of India
Where are those who are proud

My name, gentlemen, is Satyendra Dubey
I’ve already said what I wanted to say
Now I lie on the road
With a bullet in my heart

My only fault being that I wrote
A truth that was on everyone’s lips
But truth here turn poisonous

Where are those who are proud of India
Where are those who are proud

My name, brother, is Manjunath
I’ve seen the corpse of conscience lying
In the middle of the road at Lakhimpur Kherhi

Where ideals are stuck in slogans
And the royal courts are full of thieves
There the death of righteousness is old news

Where are those who are proud of India
Where are those who are proud

My name is Navleen Kumar
Nineteenth June and nineteen wounds
Nineteen nineteen nineteen nineteen
Nineteen wounds

Nineteen nineteen nineteen nineteen
Nineteen nineteen nineteen nineteen
Nineteen nineteen nineteen nineteen
Nineteen wounds

Loot the villages and open markets
Nallasopara & Virar
Snatch our land and send us to

Where are those who are proud of India
Where are those who are proud

Note the interweaving of the tune of the Indian national anthem in the chorus. It makes a shiver go down my spine every time I hear it.

3 Responses to “Four on Friday: Mumbai on my Mind”

  1. Vibha Kagzi 25 July 2011 at 8:06 AM #

    Extremely informative piece of writing. Love all the links to other relevant pieces such as Barkha’s, Naresh’s etc. and the youtube link for the song. The snippets from the pieces are also very useful for a first read thru of your blog..
    Loved reading it.. am also recommending it on my blog.
    Do keep writing… Know that someone far away is reading 🙂

  2. Meghana 25 July 2011 at 4:11 PM #

    Great video, i had never seen it before. I also liked the way it ended, back to news coverage about some star’s boyfriend. A comment on how we don’t care about the important things anymore.

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