Bombay is a city that people come to when they want their dreams realized. Many want to be actors and play their many parts. Many want commerce to be their vehicle of recognition.
Many seek the simpler pleasures of just a daily wage, which is denied to them from wherever they come.
In many ways, Bombay is India’s melting pot: where cultures touch each other with the vibrancy of life that no other city possesses. Where men and women are free not just in spirit but believe some heavenly angel protects them. Bombay is also perhaps the most democratic of all places that I can ever imagine. Where people greet each other with respect and affection but never with servility or deceit, as is commonplace in Delhi.
Which is why November 26 was so horrific. Not because those terrorists came ashore. Only because who will we now trust? Every boat that used to bring our daily fish will now be suspect. Every bag that used to be put down on the floor before you took a swig of a chilled Kingfisher at Leopold will be suspect. Every one who enters hotels will perhaps be a bit more wary. The terrorists took more than just human lives that fateful evening and for the next two days. They bruised the trust of Bombay. They hit at its very core. They dealt a body blow to its conscience. In many ways, they wounded the soul.
Enough has been said of the Bombay spirit. There are tales of heroism and valour. The Kangs and the Karkares; the Kamtes and Mangeshkars; the Salaskars and Unnikrishnans: all of them gave up something in order that Bombay lives. Then there was the soap opera, which saw vacuous politicians taking a tour of terror-swamped premises as if planning the next Bollywood film. Along side were people who used every television opportunity to throw up TRPs but perhaps hardly shed a tear for those who had lost everything and some more.
They say Bombay is resilient. They tell me Bombay will bounce back. They celebrated the re- opening of Café Leopold with unbridled joy. They celebrated the homecoming to the Taj with fervour. Of course Bombay will be back. Of course Bombay will bounce back.
But my concern is how many times should we wound Bombay only so that we can test its resilience? How many young men will come ashore in the future to deal yet another body blow to Bombay’s soul? And why should people who are out with their families or catching trains back home suffer death for no reason? Why must God remain so silent during these times of unfathomable human misery? And will we create a new way of life? Will we learn to be better prepared? Will we have hospitals that have beds and doctors? Will we arm our police force better? Will we have bulletproof vests that ward off assailant bullets? Or will all of this remain the same?
When the light has ebbed from the million of candles that were lit; when our celebrity television anchors move onto their next Breaking News; when new politicians set out to doing things in their old rotten ways, what will happen to the core of Bombay? Who will nurse Bombay back to its days of glory and compassion? Who will then become Bombay’s guardian angel, because god knows how much Bombay needs one now.
On my part, Bombay will continue to be the magnet of opportunity and affection. It will still be the Shamiana and the Sea Lounge for me. I will still gaze at the show windows of La Patisserie and Joy Shoes. I will still look out for my friend Mistry at the Harbour Bar. I will still meet some old school friends at the same corner table at Café Leopold.
Only this time round, I shall have a tear in my eyes. For those who died so that Bombay may live. I know Bombay will be weeping for ages. I know many centuries hence stories will be told by the bricks at the Gateway of India of that fateful evening. When young men, obviously misled, came to a city and bruised its soul. And left this world leaving a city bereft of trust and its innate welcoming powers.
My Bombay will rise…I know it will. Because it has no choice. It is after all the melting pot… the citadel of aspiration and achievement…
(Suhel Seth is Managing Partner, Counselage: email@example.com)