About a year ago on a gray London morning I walked to Brick Lane expecting to savor Bengali delicacies like roshogolla in the heart of the city’s Bangladeshi community. Instead, I watched a line of yellow police tape cordoning off the Tube station as helicopters whirred overhead. It was July 7, the date of the London Tube bombings. A Bangladeshi tourist standing at the police barricade said, “It’s just like Bangladesh—it’s all about creating panic. I remember when terrorists hit a string of cinema halls all at once.”
I remembered him on July 11 as I woke up to the news of bomb blasts in Mumbai’s commuter trains. It’s not just like Bangladesh in London, or Madrid, or New York. Now here it is in South Asia itself. The faraway and the exotic is now becoming us, strung together in a deadly daisy chain of violence.
It’s not surprising that terrorists strike at mass transit—whether in Mumbai or Madrid or London—or tourist destinations like Kashmir or Casablanca or Bali. It’s maximum horror in what Suketu Mehta called maximum city.
Despite the maximum horror, after the initial flurry of headlines the news disappeared from the front pages here. True, the fighting in the Middle East intensified. But still, after 9/11 and the London bombings, I remember the personal stories, the human portraits of the victims. In Mumbai only the death toll stuck out. I didn’t know their stories—was one a diamond broker going to work, was another a college student? I don’t know. The tragedy remained faceless.
Who decides that kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit’s smiling face and story will become part of our breakfast reading while the Palestinian and Iraqi dead will remain simply “3 civilians” or “2 suspected militants” killed?
It’s up to our media then, the Indian media, to tell those stories. For what is media for but to chronicle the intimate lives of the communities it covers? Instead, I see much more of angry muscle-flexing. Editorials are raking Manmohan Singh over the coals for not responding immediately with overwhelming force even before the investigative authorities have done their work.
One reader posted on a website: “Remember Bush’s speech immediately after 9/11? That’s what is required.”
By the time this editorial appears in print who knows what will have happened in the world. But this much I can say. We are still living the consequences of “Bush’s speech immediately after 9/11.” Perhaps it’s time to see if there is another way.
Do the nameless dead in Mumbai deserve revenge or justice? There is a difference.