Did Anyone Hear Them?

The Jewel of Mumbai burnt, the Gateway of India was breached, many fought hard and many more finally realized the flavour of the upcoming decade in Asia. Mumbai, the city of dreams for milions, found itself helpless for more than forty-eight hours. Our Dreams were attacked; a part of them have been burnt down. We have victims and accusers, dead and injured, the mourning and the shocked, the martyrs and the heroes, new theories and old ones, angry people and exhausted ones, futuristic suggestions and reminders of the past ones, those who want to know and those who know. And yet, none of us — none at all — actually know. In the Age of Blabber, a Listener is the rarest commodity. We hear only what we want to hear, so we could tell what we always wanted to tell; or at best, what we want to say now.

However, Mumbai burnt for they wanted us to listen to them. Did anyone hear them?

Yes, it is sad that Hotel Taj had to host one of the ugliest episodes in a City it has adorned for years.

Yes, it is sad that so many people had to die, among them trained commandos and untrained civilians, foreign nationals and native foreigners, those who saw and even those who didn’t see.

Yes, it is sad that our intelligence agencies have failed us. They shouldn’t have let this happen.

Yes, maybe the Government has also failed us to the extent that it was found totally unprepared for such a challenge and it only responded with empty words as usual.

Yes, of course our armed forces did a splendid job like they did in Kargil. We owe them so much.

Yes, the amount of strategic planning that seems to have gone into the event is frightening.

Yes, it is no more about India versus Pakistan. We are both under the same attack. The call for animosity was never so pointless.

And so on…

But haven’t we known it all for a long time? How could they have ‘given’ so many lives to tell us what we already know. There must be something else, don’t you think? What is it that they want to say? Explosions and killings can make you sit up and listen. The whole nation is up now. There may be a lot of blabber around for us to say that we are all ears, yet our eyes are fixed at them. The moment they speak into the microphone, we shall shout out loud at one and all, “Hush!” But right now, all we are asking in the middle of sharing our two-cents, is, “Did anyone hear them?”

What does a wake up call to terrorism mean? A wake up call ‘for’ what? To acknowledge that there will be more terrorism? That they can humiliate us, perhaps. Isn’t even terrorism pointless without a negotiative underbelly? For then, terrorism is the way of someone who wants to wage a war and win it, but is defeated in the mind. Like a bad chess player who has no self-belief would trade a murder for a suicide for he is afraid of losing too early. But lose, he must. Was this a self-annihilating initiative emerging out of a kind of paranoia? It surely didn’t seem so. Anyway…

It’d be stupid to deny that it hurts to see Mumbai burn like it did. I may still believe that India lives in its villages, yet there is an emerging tip of India that knows of nothing but cities. Even if we don’t love it, we’ve got to acknowledge that Mumbai has hosted the realization of crores of their urban dreams, however ridiculous. People came from the remotest of corners to the city of dreams and it gave them opportunities. That is what defines Mumbai and the city shall not be defeated as long as that does not stop. Taj and Oberoi never defined Mumbai, just as the posh ‘hills’ don’t. Mumbai is the city of those who served tea outside Oberoi and refused to take money. It is the city of those who guarded manholes through the night and gave shelter and food to the needy, when the city was flooded in 2005. Terror may have taken the route drugs have taken for years, but just as the city hasn’t been intoxicated for all these years, it has also not been dispirited yet.

The directly affected are too less to matter for this huge landmass we call India, and too rich to be one of us Indians. In a while, Hotel Taj and Oberoi shall be back in business. They’ll carry stains of the tragedy and when we pass from in front of them, we’ll discuss this November. Yet, like always, we – the rest of India – shall never enter them. They’ll never matter as much to us as the Victoria Terminus – the people’s Jewel of the City, that electronic media is deservingly accused of not having bothered with.

Possibly, it was an attack on our indifference – and quite often, contempt – towards our western neighbours. Perhaps, on our arrogance as an emerging super-power. Perhaps, on the ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Perhaps on the native and foreigner whites. Perhaps…

For some, it means a lot more than many other attacks that preceded it, for they’ve been attacked directly only this time. When those who make news, present it and read it, are turned into news items, surely there is a lot of noise around. So they are out on the streets cursing politicians and administration — people they don’t vote in or out, while others do. And of course, when they shout, they also make sure that they are heard, recorded and photographed. So they are all over newspapers and TV channels. Do we bother? Hardly…

Just as we don’t bother when the right wing tells us that it is the Muslims. Just as we don’t bother when we hear the elite tell us that it is the politicians. Even in the aftermath of a tragedy that means something to us all, we accuse the same people who we’d have accused otherwise. The Nationalists accuse Pakistan, the Saffronists accuse the Muslims. The Left accuses the Elite and Print Media accuses the Electronic Media and its ‘icons’. And everybody accuses our Political Representatives – those a new brigade of whom we are also electing simultaneously – yet again. A week apart from what many tout as the biggest terrorist attack on Indian Nation, we stand just as divided as ever. We say what we always knew and we hear only our own kind.

And I include myself. For my class-based perspective dominates – does not overshadow though – my other perspectives. It’s my favourite lens; or maybe the one I find most natural. But I, for one, cannot claim that I know. To tell you honestly, a friend called up the day it all ended asking, “So, what do you think of this episode?”

“That there are too many opinions around. That the cry is so shrill we might be missing out on what we must hear. From my side, the least I can do is to not contribute to the noise,” I said.

So then, ‘Did ‘You’ hear them…?’


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