I remember thinking in December 1992, when communal riots broke out, how fortunate I was to live in South Mumbai. We seemed so cut off from the wrath that had unfolded–you could only see our ravaged city, if you were on the top floor of a ‘townie’ building. Sure, the odd Hindu mob has been targeting Muslims in our buildings, but those are more the exception. We have always been safe in our concrete towers. We were further reassured when only two of the retaliatory bombs in March 1993 were targeted at South Mumbai. A South Mumbaiite since my childhood, I was shattered in 1993, but still somehow felt safe. Violence will never really move this far downtown, we thought.
Last night, all that changed. Our ivory towers became sand castles. 9.30pm: I was watching the preview of my friend Anuvab Pal’s film, ‘The President is Coming’, at Fame Adlabs, Andheri. My silent phone kept vibrating in my pocket. Exasperated, I finally checked, and found 10 missed calls from worried friends: “Whr r u ?”; “Bombs have gone off, terrorists have opened fire at the Taj, Oberoi, Leopold café. Colaba is under curfew”; ”R u home safe ??”.
How could sleepy old-world Colaba have become a modern Kurukshetra? Gun battles happened in Beirut, Tehran, and Jerusalem, not Colaba Causeway! Hostage situations were rampant in freezing north Kashmir, not humid South Mumbai.
Hostages in two of our finest hotels couldn’t be real. It seemed like a C-Grade Hollywood movie; this was “Die Hard” with no Bruce Willis to bail us out. And more importantly, this was an action movie I wasn’t at all prepared to watch.
Terrorism moved to outside my office, 500 yards away from my home of 18 years in Colaba. AK-56s were shattering the silent Colaba market at night. Café Leopold had been destroyed–a venue for so many celebrations in my life. Ashok Kamte, once a canteen pal from St Xavier’s College, now senior cop, was shot dead in the encounter. Stories kept pouring in–I had acquaintances among the hostages, out for a quiet meal now held at gun point.
Frantic sms’s from concerned neighbours insisted I spend the night in the suburbs. But I had to get home.
Andheri to Colaba took me just half an hour. Driving through the streets was an eerie experience. The deserted streets almost seemed sepia-toned and nostalgic--if it weren’t for the fumes and fury raging two miles down the road.
I don’t think Mumbai will ever recover from these events–there is no way we will ever be able to sweep it under the carpet; no immune system can ever kick in. This is war. Today, my city, my neighbourhood, is no different from Baghdad.
Rahul Da Cunha is director of the advertising agency Da Cunha Associates. He runs the theatre group Rage in Mumbai.