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Mumbai’s response to terror

Last night, CNN and BBC world were both running feeds off Indian news channels for an hour or so to provide coverage of the blasts in Mumbai. I remember one particular commentator saying “Although Mumbai is no stranger to terrorist threats, this particular incident is one that affects everyone, and I feel that despite the much talked-about spirit of Mumbai, life isn’t going to go back to normal very soon.” And I thought to myself, “Yeah, right.”

Even at that time, soon after the blasts, it was quite clear that that the Mumbai janta wasn’t running scared. They weren’t even running. They were hanging around, taking the injured to hospital, clearing up the place, bringing bedsheets from homes to carry bodies and severed limbs. TV coverage clearly showed that of the people who were helping out, far more were out of uniform than in. Not only that, hundreds of people were just standing, right on the scene of the incidents, observing.

Around four hours after the blasts, the first train service on the Western line was restarted. BEST, the bus company has pressed extra buses into service, and this morning, mostly everyone will be going right back to work.

So no, Mumbai isn’t cowering by any stretch of imagination. But to anyone who’s lived in Mumbai for long, that’s hardly a surprise. What’s surprising is that these attackers thought to accomplish something. What, we may never know.

I used to go to college by train when I was in Mumbai – my college was right opposite Matunga Road station, where one of the blasts took place. If I had to take the train to school in Mumbai today, I admit I would have felt more than a little sense of foreboding. And so will other people… but that won’t stop anyone from doing it. The whole concept of lets-sit-at-home-because-of-reasonX is totally alien in Mumbai. It’s not so much that Mumbaikars are brave, resilient and defiant (though they certainly are all of those) – but that they thrive on activity, whatever the circumstances. For the city to stop running is simply unimaginable.

The law will take it’s course. Terrorist groups will be blamed, suspects will be apprehended, the investigation and judicial process will go on for a score of years (a court ruling is still expected for the 1993 blasts). But this, no more and no less — will be the most expressive response of Mumbai to terror. A simple message: “Nothing will stop.” You can murder 200 people and injure 400 more, but if you were hoping to stop 15 million people with fear, that ain’t happening.

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