Three weeks after the terrorist attacks, life in this sprawling city is getting back to normal, or close to it.
THE flight into Mumbai was late, and it was nearly 2 a.m. when we stumbled into the car our hotel had sent to pick us up. Walking out of the airport, my girlfriend and I were bathed in klieg-like lights shining down on what appeared to be an endless sea of people crowded behind a police barrier - families waiting for relatives; drivers searching for passengers; vendors and beggars, policemen and businessmen; and every other form of Mumbaikar humanity. Or so it seemed to us.
That's your first impression of this sprawling city of 16 million - the feeling that there are people just everywhere, spilling into streets, crowded into tiny storefronts, filling up giant slums, even milling about international airports at 2 in the morning. Shanghai and Beijing may have more inhabitants, but they don't feel like this.
We arrived there three weeks after the Mumbai terrorist attacks, a horrifying three-day ordeal in which more than 170 were killed and some of old Bombay's most notable landmarks, including the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and the Oberoi hotel, were left looking like they had been through a war. Which, of course, they had been. After beginning their murderous spree at the famous Victoria rail station, which is now called the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the terrorists had moved through the fashionable streets of the Colaba district, finally holing up in the two hotels, where they killed guests and staff indiscriminately, and then settled in for a 60-hour siege.
I have been trying to remember what New York was like three weeks after 9/11. Had the mood brightened visibly? Were we starting to get our bearings back? Were we telling jokes again? My memory is that the return to normalcy was still in its early stages - that we were still traumatized, still looking back on the events of that awful day almost obsessively. It was impossible to walk down a street in New York City and not see photographs of missing people or wreaths and memorials at fire stations.
But three weeks after these attacks, Mumbai wasn't like that, at least not on the surface. Although the newspapers had already labeled the attacks 26/11 (Nov. 26), you didn't hear the phrase very often in polite conversation. Nor did you see the kinds of instant memorials - the candles and wreaths and signs - that have become so common in the West when disaster strikes. Life was already back to normal, or close to it. "For you, 9/11 was a once in a lifetime event," one businessman told me. "We have bombings once a month."
The primary way you felt the events of 26/11 was in the heightened security: the dogs sniffing your bags as you entered the new Four Seasons hotel; the pat-down as you went through the metal detector at the hotel entrance; the soldiers, everywhere, behind embankments, their high-powered rifles at the ready. Some of these measures had been around for a long time, but others were new, a reaction to the attacks. I had lunch one afternoon at the Taj Lands End, a high-end hotel under the umbrella of the Tata Group, which also includes the Taj Palace & Tower. It was like a ghost town. "Before the attacks, this lobby would have had a lot of people in it," said my lunch companion, Jerry Rao, a well-known Indian entrepreneur. "Now ..." His voice trailed off sadly.
On my first day, when I asked my driver how the city was feeling about the attacks, he shrugged. "That's over," he said. And yet, later in the morning, seeing that I had a free hour to kill, he decided to give an impromptu tour. He drove me past the majestic, damaged Taj - beloved by Indians because it was built by the great Indian industrialist, Jamshedji Tata, 105 years ago, as the first luxury hotel in the city that booked Indian as well as white guests. It looked desolate and sad, its lights off, inaccessible behind the police tape. We drove past the already reopened Leopold Café and Bar, where several people had been killed. "Look down there," said my driver. "See that white building?" I craned my neck. That was the Nariman House, where a rabbi from Brooklyn, Gavriel Holtzberg, and his wife, Rivka, were killed.( Collapse )source