Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Mumbai Massacre: One Degree Of Separation

The most gruesome stories about the terrorists attack on the Trident-Oberoi and The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai and a Jewish congregation are unfortunately just beginning to emerge. As are the identities of the scores who were out dining at the fine restaurants in the two hotels that evening.

There is perhaps no aspect of this attack on Mumbai that is less revulsive and deserves any less condemnation. But if there is one element that stands out for further scrutiny, as I see it. And it is the manner in which innocent diners at the Tiffin and Khandahar restaurants at The Oberoi (the smaller Oberoi hotel next to the larger Trident-Oberoi at the southern tip of Mumbai's Marine Drive) were dragged out, made to stand in a line against a wall and executed.

Reports also have it (from some of those in that line-up who survived by pretending to be shot) that the shooter sought instructions from someone on the phone before carrying out the act. The voice on the other end of the phone, suspected to be from outside the country, asked the shooter to go ahead. And he did, perhaps emptying an entire AK-56 magazine.

Anxious Relatives

Unlike the hotel guests, there was no master list against which the authorities (confused as many of them were) could match and tally. And so the identities of those who remained inside, dead or alive, was only known when the seige at the Oberoi finally ended on Friday afternoon, having begun Tuesday night around 9.30 pm.

I met many of those relatives and friends who began milling around The Oberoi since Wednesday morning, as they discovered that their near and dear ones had not returned from their dinners. There was no way to confirm whether they were dead, alive or held hostage. And this most unfortunate state of affairs was to last almost 48 hours.

One was a father who said two of his daughters were both dining at The Oberoi, one he said managed to escape and the second he did not know about. I hope she survived but I don't have the heart to trace him down. And I could. Ditto with several gentlemen I met who even showed me the visiting cards of friends and associates they knew had entered The Oberoi on Tuesday night. And were yet to return.

The Facebook Deathlist

They were asking me for information, their eyes and voices pleading with me to reveal something that they did not know. I wish I could. At first I thought I would give them hope. But my gut and a sense of what had happened The Oberoi made me decide against it. I told them that there was absolutely no information forthcoming on who was still inside and in what condition. Also not to believe anyone otherwise because no one could get that information out, whatwith the National Security Guard (NSG) and the terrorists still engaged in pitched and clearly audible gun battles.

Another couple I met told me that their daughter told them how her friends' were posting messages on Facebook saying their parents or one parent had gone to The Oberoi and not come back on Tuesday night. "We found out about X because our daughter and Mr X's daughter are in the same class," the couple told me. And there were others too.

Well I did know Mr X and have met him a few times professionally, though I did not know him that well. In case you are wondering why I am using the past tense, you are right - I saw Mr X's obituary in the newspaper this morning, along with at least four or other people I have either met in years gone by or know of. As I could count, there has been, in many cases, barely a degree of separation, if at all.

The last time that happened was in March 1993. I was there minutes after the Air-India building bomb went off, killing scores and injuring hundreds. I knew a few people who were injured and survived. I was even standing and walking in and around the same location (A road seperates Air-India and The Trident Oberoi and their entrances face each other) as I could see. Come to think of it, it was even as chaotic this week as it was then. 1993 was the first time, If I remember, the concept of the Mumbai spirit and resilience was born. I do hope it did not die last week, indeed as many people believe it has.

Next: The Mumbai Massacre: We Must Respond

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