Advertisement

Mumbai takes a deep breath after the crisis

Magnier is a Times staff writer.

In normal times, money drives Mumbai. And even as police detonated grenades they removed Saturday from the last redoubt of a terrorist band, residents fretted about the effects of three days of violence on the seething energy that unites rich and poor, Hindu and Muslim in India’s commercial capital.

By targeting two luxury hotels, a restaurant popular with tourists and a Jewish center, the attackers appeared intent on destroying Mumbai’s economic lifeblood, driving away foreign investors and tourists, analysts said.

With police saying they had killed the last of the attackers in the vast reaches of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel early Saturday, Mumbai residents reached for their ginger tea and morning bread with a measure of relief. Their chaotic city, home of India’s film industry, known as Bollywood, and some of the world’s most expensive real estate, is proud of its ability to bounce back. When bombers attacked its trains in 2006, killing about 200 people, rail service resumed in four hours and the stock market rose 3% the next day.

But this time, it could take a while, residents said.

Advertisement

Many may think twice about going to crowded markets, cinemas and railway stations.

At the 150-year-old Crawford Market, Mumbai’s largest, long, thin carts wended their way among shoppers, sugar cane juice vendors and potholes.

“Big, big sale!” yelled one merchant.

“Seventy rupees anything we have!” yelled another.

Advertisement

After a two-day shutdown, people were drifting back to the market, but fewer than normal.

“They just wanted to hurt India’s economy,” said Badshah Sheif, a merchant selling duct tape in a stall smaller than a phone booth. “But we’ll work together and get business moving again soon.”

Official estimates of the death toll from the attacks climbed to 195 on Saturday, including 20 soldiers and police officers. Eighteen foreigners were reported to be among the dead. They included six with U.S. citizenship: three at the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish center, a man and his daughter on a spiritual pilgrimage, and one person who has not been identified.

A top aide said India’s home minister, Shivraj Patil, who is in charge of much of the country’s internal security services, sent his resignation to the prime minister to take responsibility for the attacks, according to the Associated Press.

A team of FBI agents was on the way to Mumbai.

“As the people of the world’s largest democracy recover from these attacks, they can count on the people of the world’s oldest democracy to stand by their side,” President Bush said.

A few miles from the Crawford Market, police were going through the Taj hotel, looking for booby traps and removing bodies. Bedsheets that desperate hostages used to escape still were hanging from window frames.

Fire and police officials took explosives left by the attackers to the seaside promenade to be detonated. Massive blasts echoed off the 103-year-old, 540-room building, and sent flocks of startled pigeons skyward.

Advertisement

Jay Makhijani watched as police carefully removed a box from the hotel and detonated the leftover grenades. He runs high-end jewelry shops in the Taj and the Oberoi, the other hotel that was attacked.

He hadn’t been to either since Wednesday, and said he was worried about the damage.

An optimist by nature, however, the Mumbai native said he believed the city and his stores would bounce back soon.

“If the restaurant was open in the Oberoi tonight, I’d go there for dinner,” Makhijani said. “That’s how badly I want things to return to normal.”

It might take longer to restore trust between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority. Officials have suggested that Islamic militant groups based in rival Pakistan who were responsible for previous attacks in India were responsible for this one.

Officials said the only attacker captured was Pakistani, and news reports said he had confessed to being a member of one of the groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba. That could not be confirmed.

Pakistani officials said India had provided no proof to them, but they condemned the attack and said they would investigate.

“This will make people fearful and distrustful of Muslims,” said Naved Akhtar Mirza, a Muslim in Mumbai who runs a restaurant beside a blue mosque near the Crawford Market. “They’re going to say all Muslims do this sort of thing. I have many Hindu friends, but the politicians use these tragedies to stir up trouble.”

Advertisement

He’s not alone in his concern. Almost immediately after the siege ended, Teesta Setalvad started mapping out plans to help prevent hate and mistrust from dividing the city. The social activist and co-editor of the newsletter Communalism Combat has been fighting to reverse divisive politics for two decades.

“I really hope I’m wrong, but when you have an incident like this linked to Pakistan, there are always forces that apply it back to Muslims in India,” she said.

Added S.A. Sheif, a toy seller, “We are all Indians. These terrorists have no religion, since no religion teaches you to kill.”

Another long-term cost the city must bear is the loss of several business and media luminaries dining or staying at the Taj or the Oberoi, along with the head of Mumbai’s anti-terrorism squad, who were killed in the attacks.

“City loses some of its best and brightest,” said a front-page article in the Times of India newspaper, detailing the deaths of prominent bank chairman Ashok Kapur, developer Pankaj Shah and businessman Sunil Parekh.

Devyani Jayakar, an editor at the interior design magazine Inside Outside, said that this crisis was different because wealthy, educated Indians were affected, not just poor people who are too often the victims of bombings or other disasters.

“There’s real anger,” she said in her 14th-floor apartment in the prosperous Worli neighborhood overlooking the city. “Rich, well-connected people are angry at the fact that police are busy protecting corrupt politicians instead of places like the Taj.”

Her son, Niall Sadh, said the two hotels had hosted the weddings and first dates of members of India’s upper crust for generations.

The Bollywood film industry has already started to tone itself down at a time frivolous entertainment can seem inappropriate. Director and producer Rohan Sippy was screening his new film, “The President Is Coming,” when the attackers struck Wednesday night, prompting him to cancel the screening midway. One of the many places where militants opened fire on civilians that night was outside the city’s Metro Cinema.

“In the short to medium term, we’re going to see a big setback,” Sippy said. “People are going to be afraid to go into the cinema, not just in Mumbai but all of India.”

Rahul Bose, an actor and social activist, said Indians put up with poor water supply, sanitation and flood control systems, but until this attack they thought they could still expect a minimum level of security.

Reports indicate that the attackers landed in rubber dinghies within a mile of a major army, air force and naval base. Then they hit their targets and kept police and soldiers at bay for nearly three days.

“Psychologically this is our 9/11,” Bose said. “It’s a terrible statement on the commercial capital of India.”

The poor seem as traumatized as the representatives of a newer, more prosperous India that has embraced call centers, shopping malls and imported brands.

There’s little evidence of globalization in the warren of slum housing at the Machimar Colony half a mile from the spot where the attackers reportedly came ashore.

Fisherman Eknath Tandel earns $2 a day, except during the four-month monsoon, when he earns nothing.

“We’re scared,” he said in his two-room house, where three generations live.

“Not only are we living close to where the terrorists came ashore,” he said. “They wanted to attack India by attacking its economy. But all we can do is keep powering along.”

--

mark.magnier@latimes.com


Advertisement