Here’s what I did today. I got up in the morning, toddled over to my neighbourhood coffee shop, read some stuff online, bought two pairs of shoes (it’s sale season here in Mumbai) and then I was going to head downtown at about 7 when I got this message: “City on high alert. Blast in Zaveri Bazar.” Minutes later, another one came in: “Also in Dadar.”
That’s the last SMS I’ve been able to receive or respond to since 7.25. It is now 8.40. We know now that there have been three bomb blasts, in Kabutarkhana (Dadar), Khau Gali (Zaveri Bazar) and Opera House. There was a rumour that another unexploded bomb was found somewhere in Dadar. Panicked messages said there were more blasts in Lamington Road and Churchgate but so far, that doesn’t seem to be true. The bombs were improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the blasts seem to be coordinated. The police commissioner has said that he believes the explosions are a terrorist plot, rather than the work of local parties. One of the IEDs was in an umbrella, which sounds like something you’d see on “The Simpsons”. He has also asked the media to back off and let the officials do their job. Not that anyone’s listening. The craze for breaking news has reporters pressing shell-shocked witnesses for comments even as they desperately try to get away from the spotlight. Anchors in studio have figured it all out. One says it’s Kasab’s birthday, with a macabre nudge-nudge-wink-wink (it isn’t his birthday, by the way. Then again, maybe it is. See UPDATE at the bottom of post). Kasab is the one of the executors of the 2008 attacks and the only one to have been captured alive. Another says that the blasts are of high intensity and the work of Indian mujahideen. Who cares if any of this is actually true or how they’ve come to these conclusions? There’s a “breaking news” banner that has to be kept adequately flashy.
Shocking as it may be, if you ignore the fact that the blasts are evidence of some serious intelligence failure, the administration has responded quite efficiently. Within half an hour, the police and firemen had reached the sites. The areas had been cordoned off. By 8pm, the injured had been shifted to nearby hospitals. Around 8.45, P. Chidambaram, the home minister, gave a press statement announcing that 10 were dead and that he inferred that this was a terrorist plot. He also said that there would be updates every two hours. The chief minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chauhan has been sincere, calm and careful in his responses. He said that the blast at Opera House was the most powerful of the three and that there were 13 people dead and 81 injured. (Yes, three more since Chidambaram’s statement, which was about 15 minutes before Chavan’s). UPDATE: The number of people rose to 17 about ten minutes after I wrote this part.
So the administration seems to have learned some lessons since 2008. The media, on the other hand, hasn’t evolved much. On the plus side, let’s give them a pat on their backs for having refrained from using the phrase “spirit of Mumbai” in their commentary.
UPDATE 1: It’s now come to the point where you get to hear sound bytes from the chaps who want to be on tv. One diamond trader described what he saw and heard (not much). The reporter asked him how many people he thought were dead. He said, “Five were dead here. About 25 were injured. One of the people dead was from my community, the Jains. His name is Tushar Shah. He has lost his life and his diamonds he has lost also.”
The city’s taxi union had initially said that they would head for the garage after midnight because the police harass cabbies most in these circumstances. They are, apparently, the ones who bear the brunt of all paranoia and suspicion. However, they decided cabs would ply all night. I feel like giving them a hug right now.
A guy called Nitin Sagar started a Google spreadsheet to collect numbers of people who can help. It started with about 5 and at present has 250. There are dozens, scores of people who have offered their homes and offices to those who may be stranded because of the blasts.
UPDATE 2: The casualties have gone up to 20 and the injured are numbered at 113 now (10.16pm).
UPDATE 3: So now it seems today is Kasab’s birthday after all.
UPDATE 4: Casualties: 21. Injured: 141.