"Sadness, but Also Outrage": A Grinnellian Reports from Mumbai
Kartik Sheth '93, a research scientist at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., has written about his experiences in Mumbai since terrorists attacked that city last week. His notes, originally written to update family and friends on his well-being, describe what it has been like. "The mood from the general public is sadness, but also outrage," he writes. "… I don't know what saddens me more … [the] increasing but misplaced hate for an entire group of people, or the senseless violence carried out by the terrorists."
Sheth has given us permission to reprint his reflections below.
Also, Alok Shah '04, now a medical student at the University of Iowa, has been checking up on family and friends in his hometown of Mumbai. Read more about his story in Shah's Radio Iowa interview.
If you've shared your thoughts about the Mumbai events online and would like us to make them available to other Grinnellians, please send us a link.
Notes from Mumbai - from India's own 9/11 — Kartik Sheth, originally posted Nov. 27, 2008
It's been about 24 hrs since the first news of "trouble" began emerging on the television. At the beginning, we all thought there was some gang-related shooting, which in itself was unusual because murders by gangs or "encounters" by the cops rarely involve the public. Since I am fighting a cold and had just taken some cold medicine, I faded in and out for the next couple of hours as the news escalated. We are at my aunt's place in Ville Parle West (Irla) - which is about 2-3 km from the taxi bomb blast that occurred last night. We are not near the southern "town" part of Mumbai which the terrorists have descended on.
You all probably know as much as we do by now. 20-25 terrorists came via the sea on a relatively large ship and decided they were on the set of a Die Hard movie - except the consequences are much more real and quite terrifying. The city that never sleeps was indeed brought to a stop for nearly a day - at least in that section of town. There were shots fired into the public, grenades tossed and bomb blast reports all over the downtown area. The information was very sketchy but I was amazed that there was no "sanitizing" of the video or audio. There were some grim scenes on TV - including a lot of blood and fire and live coverage of blasts and gunfire.
Overall there was a lot of chaos - no one seemed to be in charge and different agencies responded at different times. It was a bit surreal to see the anti-terrorist chief reported dead in the morning - just 12 hrs earlier we had watched him arrive, live [sic] on tv, and never expected he would take the lead in an "encounter" as they say here.
The mood from the general public is sadness but also outrage. Certainly there is a current of anti-Islam that runs through the people here and I don't know what saddens me more - that ongoing and increasing but misplaced hate for an entire group of people, or the senseless violence carried out by the terrorists.
Mumbai is resilient. It has recovered and I saw that first hand in our family. As the stock exchange, schools, colleges were closed today - my cousin said "want to come see where I work and what I do?" Eager to get away from the coverage and the flat, I agreed - and we drove north to Bhayandar. Except for a massive 1.5 hr gridlock which was pointless because it was created by a random search at a checkpoint where they simply forced 6 or 7 lanes of traffic into 2 or 3, everything seemed normal for a few hrs. I learned a lot about how corrugated boxes are made - it was cool! I will post photos soon.
Then we came back and were thinking of leaving town for my uncle and aunt's wedding anniversary but the exits out of town are just jammed so we stayed in - and went out to get some dinner on the streets - I think this is the first time since I left India that I ventured to eat street food.. If I don't write more tomorrow you will know why ;) -- it will be the attack of the germs instead of the attack by the terrorists.
In any case - I haven't had a chance to sit and reflect upon the entire day but will soon and write more from here. Already people are getting sick of coverage and expecting the cops to take more action and end the siege - everyone is hopeful that it is nearly at an end so I hope next time I write - that will be the case.
Thanks everyone for being so wonderful to check in on me and inquire about how we were doing and how Mumbai is doing. Peace
Mumbai notes - Part II — Kartik Sheth, originally posted Nov. 28, 2008
Postscript - It's over!! Yeah!!!
A cool drizzle has been a welcome relief here. I am tired of waking up to the incessant repetition of the terrorist drama and yet it remains captivating. The mood of the city is slowly improving although yesterday, India TV started reporting additional firings at Marine Drive and the main train station called CST (or VT in old days). Turned out to be a false, panic-driven rumor which thankfully was not picked up by every station but the city was on edge and many smaller markets like Zaveri Bazaar (Jeweller's market) closed down. My aunt and sister-in-law very really worried and were calling everyone they knew in the Marine Drive area and these markets to return home. Everything shut down yesterday afternoon but about an hour or two later, it was clear that it was just a rumor. To the CNBC equivalent affiliate's credit here - they apologized and said clearly it was a rumor - I lost all respect for India TV though, which seems to be just another equivalent to Fox news in the US. It relishes on fear but I have to say their reporters on the scene themselves seemed to have believed the worst - that a second round of terrorism had started out. In any case, an early start to the weekend - I think most things may stay shut today even though Saturday is a normal work day.
We went to drop off my sister and her family's bags off at the airport for early check in and there was a lot of tension around the airport and a very large armed presence. But the arms for the police were so subpar that I almost laughed - the guards had shot guns or simple rifles instead of anything sophisticated - esp. compared to the terrorists. I am not sure why the guards were not better armed in one of the most important airports in the country.
There was an amusing if a bit tense moment. I didn't have my passport with me and they did not allow me to enter into the terminal to help with the bags but made me wait outside curbside. As I waited for my brother in law to return, I got a call from my uncle and so there I was standing in jeans and a t-shirt (a bit unusual in India still - most men wear collared, full sleeved shirts) and talking on a phone. This immediately made all the security guards very nervous and they started questioning my motives and asking me what I was doing there. Having a California driver's license was no help and they asked me to leave immediately. At least I wasn't arrested and put into Gitmo or something like that. It was clear that everyone was on edge esp. following the rumors of additional attacks in the afternoon.
People here are ready for the crisis to be over. Everyone including the news media believes that Pakistan played a role in this but where and what level is unclear. The Pakistani intelligence service ISI has usually been the prime suspect in the past but this time they agreed to send their chief to India to help with the investigation. This was welcome news but then they changed their mind and have decided to send a subordinate which has increased the ire of the media and the public. This morning, the only ongoing operations remain at the Taj - what a terrible fate for one of Mumbai's most important landmarks. A year and a half ago when I was here, my friends and I stopped there for an afternoon tea and just loved the experience. It was / it is a true classic and I hope it can be restored to its former glory. Latest news suggests still a few terrorists holed up in the Taj - the number fluctuates from one grievously injured sole gunman to several. It's looking more like several now.
I can't wait to get out of here. Pune on Monday for a usual work week from Pune / talks etc. Then hopefully to Kerala.
Hope you are all well in various parts of the world. Happy T-giving holiday to my friends in the US. Hoping for an Obama administration and a new page in US and world history. With the environment and other issues we face today, we ought to put peace at the very top. Anyone else for Kucinich as a new Secretary of Peace cabinet level position? :)