A country of fatalists

On night shifts, it is common for reporters to roam the city, hunting for news. I was supposed to cover a car rally that was starting from the Gateway of India at around 5:30-6am in the morning of 12 December; which meant I left my office somewhere around 4:30am.

It was two weeks since the terror attack, 26-28 November 2008, and this was the first time that I was visiting those spots; in the dead of the night; after the incident.

As I left my office, I felt a chill. I remembered the last time I had been to Gateway, some 4-5 months ago.

Like visitors do, I had walked around the Taj’s outer corridors, trying to get a glimpse of the happy times that were hidden behind those glass windows, wondering about the fun people had in those dim and tastefully-lit restaurants.

But now, I knew those windows had been sealed with wood and cardboard; to hide the devastation, 60 hours of terror had caused. The Taj was covering its scars, so that healing could begin.

*****

These were my thoughts as I drove through the quiet streets of Mumbai. We passed through the CST railway station – the pride of Mumbai. I could feel the enormity of what had happened here just a few nights ago. Bullets had been flying; bullets that two of my colleagues had barely managed to escape from. But many others hadn’t.

In the past 15 days, nothing had happened to reassure me that bullets would not fly here again. “So who would it be next time?” I shuddered to think.

In the quiet of the night we proceeded towards Gateway. When we reached there, we found the area was barricaded. How ironic!

When the whole anti-terror operation was going on, anyone and everyone from the general public could get real close. But now after all was over, the barricades were up, with two policemen on guard.

Why is it that we always take re-active measures? Haven’t we heard that prevention is better than cure?

At Gateway, I was met by my counterparts from other channels. The first question everyone asked one another was how they had fared after the coverage.

As we stood there, we noticed two youngsters with knapsacks waiting for the morning ferry. Did the terrorists also look as commonplace as these two kids? Was that why no one stopped them when they moved freely around the city, unleashing terror?

Yes, it was irrational to be reminded of Kasav and his cohorts, just because there were two young men in front of us with knapsacks.

But then paranoia is irrational.

This chain of conversation was broken as two morning walkers came along and asked us if we thought it was safe to take a stroll near the Gateway.

Walking at Gateway and Marine Drive is so taken for granted by every Mumbaikar. And yet here they were today wondering if they could walk!

*****

The rally arrived; its members were to go to Delhi to hand over a citizen’s charter to the prime minister.

Suddenly there was some hope in the air. Maybe more of such movements would be launched and people would take them seriously.

But call it a journalist’s cynicism, I wasn’t sure if this fervour would last. But for now, these people really seemed to want to make a difference.

I hope it lasts, but the issue of citizen’s security seems to have taken a backseat as our rulers play at diplomacy and mandate 2009 politics.

The terrorists used the sea this time and targeted hotels. They might use and target something else next time. Are we any better guarded than we were 15 days ago?

More than 600 people have died during the last 3-4 months in this country in terror attacks. But no one seems to have learnt a lesson.

Maybe that is why we will continue to be fatalists. Wondering, when we leave home every morning, if we would be back home safely in the evening, and shrugging it all off, with “Is desh mein kahin bhi kuch bhi ho sakta hai.”

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