The year in terror has been building and rising, but few expected it to rise to this dramatic crescendo. Boats, control rooms in key buildings, AK-47s, grenades, hostages. As I begin to write, my television continues to bleat the worn platitudes of so many blind men and women of Hindoostan panning reality with their telephoto lenses, over the muffled roar of helicopters and machine gun fire.
Terrorism is high impact and ethics-free anti-art using global media. My imagination has been leached and my insides need cleansing, like an extra travel day spent watching porn in a hotel room. Still, one must concede their mad genius, uniting a new day of mourning in India with the pilgrim feast of Thanksgiving in America, both doused in the same hot stream of media violence.
I am already getting unsolicited text-forwards from cousins and acquaintances. India is planning to bomb Pakistan, says one. My friend Usman, in London, texts me just as he has every time this year, in the wake of each terror strike: “All ok?” “We’re invading Pakistan, but otherwise all okay,” I squeeze out. I’m not sure how funny he found this, for he writes back, “Re: Invasion, ok good. I was worried in the post-Obama fervour the world was becoming too sensible.”
Traveling through Mumbai this week is like living in an alternative dystopic reality, where malls, hotels and airports are surrounded with metal detectors, and armed guards. The usual ceremonies of entry and departure from colonnaded porticos have been suspended, and everyone is being forced to walk the last five blocks to the single entry of their sealed building. In the wake of the attacks, any number of international trade and industry conferences have been cancelled throughout India. Skittish international capital is reevaluating the risk of doing business in India, and so the attacks are having their desired economic effect.
The news channels have been branding it “India’s 9/11.” It is media hyperbole, it serves an ideological intent to align with and perhaps out-victim the US and UK, and it makes it easier to suggest retaliatory military action within the borders of Pakistan. But the label also lingers while we struggle to come to grips with what it was all really about. Not the tragic repetition of someone else’s history, but perhaps a sign from the future.
The attacks exceed the everyday violence that we have become inured to in the subcontinent, even when it has communal intent, even when hundreds die. There is the daring, of course, not only to attack India by sea, but to hit out at the public palaces and perches of the rich and famous. There is the urban, architectural and maritime research, the cross-border planning, the wireless coordination of personnel and armaments. There is the lateral imagination to transform a self-involved metropolis that itself has often threatened to secede from the dirty Indian hinterland into a cowering and precarious place on the edge of a dangerous sea. The Indian people, of every class and region, want to know why this was done to them, and no one really has any ready answers.
The hard answer that Indians are looking for is that there can be no peace for a prosperity that one’s neighbors do not share in, and that we are destined to share not only our past inheritance, but also our future fortune.
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