Salaam Bombay

Last week the dastardly terrorist bombing of Bombay’s suburban trains brought global terrorism another step closer to the largest democracy in the world – India.

Bombay is a city very dear to me and my wife. We started our working life in Bombay and worked there for 5 years. Took the train from Andheri to Churchgate and back everyday. I traveled in the same first class coaches that seem to have been targeted by the terrorists. Life wasn’t all roses – the 3.5 hours total commute didn’t leave us much time to enjoy Bombay. But when we did we fell in love with it. We loved the theatre (Prithvi), restaurants (Samraat, Mahesh lunch home), movie halls (Eros, Regal). The heady mix of high finance and Bollywood. The professionalism at work. They all endeared us to Bombay. But most of all it was the people of Bombay.

Mumbaikars are an amazing lot. Everyone is very focused on their own lives – not a moment to spare. You have to just look at the uniformly high speed at which people walk from Churchgate to work to get that. Or the working women cutting veggies in the train. Yet, if there is someone in trouble, there will be a dozen people offering to help. Witness the scenes on TV during last year’s floods. The income and class distinctions in Bombay are stark, yet in the trains and on the road things are very egalitarian. They worship their Bollywood stars, but not glamour. Certainly not as much as say Delhi does. Bombay is very inclusive – it is an immigrant magnet within India. It is the capital of Maharashtra, yet its unofficial official language is Bambaiya Hindi. Like open source software, nobody can lay claim to it, yet it is spoken all over.

When I heard about the bomb blasts the shock quickly gave way to concern – for people in the great city but also for employees and friends. Our offices in India are in Mumbai and many of our employees take the very same trains. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. By late that night we had a full account of all employees. We kept a close watch on developments to decide what to do the next day. My gut told me that the next day would be back to normal. And so it was.

But even though I half expected it, it was no less surprising. Think about it. This is not one, but seven explosions – which should have crippled the train system. More than 200 dead and many hundreds more injured. The hospitals were overflowing. The police was quickly moving into high gear to get on the trail of the terrorists before it turns cold. There was always the possibility of communal rioting. All this was happening, but the next day Mumbaikars just go about their business as usual. Most of our employees turned up. Enough for us to cover the day’s work. (We do time sensitive coverage of company events). Out here in the US we saw TV interviews of school children nonchalantly saying that there didn’t seem to be any reason to not go to school!

If Bombay were a boxer, he may or may not be the champion. But you could never knock him out. He would go down to the mat once in a while, but would pick himself up every time, not by the count of 10, but immediately.

I was in Bombay during the 1993 bombing. And I was in the US during 9/11. Granted 9/11 was a much bigger act of terrorism – both in death toll as well as how telling the blow was, which is how a terrorist would look at it. 9/11 caused the American psyche a trauma from which it will not recover for a generation. Bombay moved on in a matter of months. And the same will happen this time.

The question is why? Why does Bombay (or maybe this is an India thing) have such a short memory for great tragedies? Is it because people don’t have choices so they have to settle with it? As in, they have to take the train if they have to go to work so what’s the point of fearing it. Or is it because accidents and acts of terror are so commonplace that you get inured to the idea? I am told, Israel is a bit like that. It may be so. But I think there is also a little bit of another thing – Mumbaikars don’t look back. Jo ho gaya so ho gaya. The past holds nothing for them. The future is where its at. The future is when the stock market will break all records. The future is when Sachin Tendulkar will help India win the World Cup. The future is when Amitabh Bachchan will make his greatest movie. They approach the future with the bright,shiny eyes of optimism. And that makes enduring the past that much easier.

Mumbai, a self-healing city, I salute you. Salaam Bombay!


  1. ila says:

    A schoolboy on tv actually said “raat gayee, baat gayee” but i think behind the nonchalance and the rozi-roti ka sawaal story is a deep sense of hurt and anger. The salaams and spirit of mumbai stuff is allowing those in govt. an easy way to brush off their own failures. And this time people are really really upset. The police have had a 1 point agenda in the past 12-18 months: to shut dance bars just so the moral brigade is appeased. They’re not in the business of social reform but under fear of govt. backlash have given policing, law and order a back seat.
    It doesnt help that the PM goes on national tv and tells the country that the economy will be unaffected as the city’s back in business. The Mumbaikar realises that he’s only a cash cow for his fellow citizens. And isnt it foolhardy that the central/harbour lines continued to run – did anyone think of stopping the service there to sanitise the trains so that preventive measures could’ve been taken in case they too were attacked ?

    What value human life?


  2. Vikram says:

    I starting to doubt wheteher is the resilient spirit or the just callousness?


  3. Santosh Kotnis says:

    I experienced Mumbai in late 90s (Early 2000) and the life in Mumbai teaches you a lot of lessons, this is true beauty of this city. I felt a rhythm in the city, everything as per time, its good connectivity of locals and BEST buses.

    Though I didn’t experience Mumbai to its fullest extent because I was in campus for all my days in Mumbai, how ever I got good glimpse of the city and its life. I even confessed to some of my friend ‘Mumbai me life ban jayegi”.

    Mumbailar’s are special lot and they certainly exhibited much required patience and courage during last week’s blasts, indeed it’s ‘Salam Mumbai’

    Your post really brought back my memories of Mumbai and I could imagine the pain Mumbaikars went through.


  4. Siddharth says:

    Spirit of the city echoes the resiliant nature of our people. India is a victor today because we can take the hit. We just need to rewind 60 plus years and remember what Mr. Gandhi did. Incredible feats of dignified human behaviour.

    In honor of Gandhi, Sachin, and those to come!


  5. Lokesh says:

    Although I’m impressed by this show of “life goes on” by Mumbai in particular and India in general, I’m equally saddened and frustrated by the cheap cost of an Indian life represented by it. You have refered to the “trauma” that 9/11 caused to the American psyche, but what you have missed is how America responded to it. No wonder, there hasn’t been a single terrorist incident on American soil since 9/11 and that’s not due to a lack of America hating jihadis. On the other hand, India continues to bleed with neither the government nor the public too bothered about it.


  6. B Shantanu says:

    This talk about the “spirit of Mumbai” prompted me to write this piece which you may find interesting:

    “The nonsense about the “spirit of Mumbai”… ”


  7. Gaurav says:

    We are getting into this dangerous habit of covering up all are inadequacies under some city’s ‘spirit’ – be it Mumbai blasts, flood or Jaipur explosions, etc. I mean, what were mumbaikars expected to do after the blasts (or for that matter, jaipur people) – refuse to travel in trains, or refuse to step out of homes – they cant afford to. Its a city where being a human being itself can be a daily challenge – every paisa counts. The truth is, that despite its colorful history and financial importance, today its only a big heap of rotting filth, overcrowded killer trains and buses, constantly jammed roads, indifferent and callous people. The premium on human life is less than that of a few minutes of one’s time or a few rupees from one’s pocket.
    After continuous rains and a high tide and submerged several parts of suburban Mumbai under feet of water, all transportation ground to a halt – no trains, buses or taxis. Office-goers had no choice but to try and walk a few kilometers; and the highest (and safest, free of dangerous underwater potholes/manhole) ground is usually the railway track. What do our news channels report – ‘look at the spirit of mumbai… despite so big a problem, they’re still walking.. if there is no train on the track, they’ll walk on it… that’s professionalism’. For god’s sake, where’s the spirit in walking home ?!!! What do they expect people to do? Stay at their work place for two days – or try and walk to an alternate place?
    A news reporter was interviewing a lady in Mulund who was going back to her workplace in BKC sometime after the deluge – ‘aap ko kaise lag raha hai, aap kyon office ja rahi hai?’ Now, who in his senses would expect her to say ‘kyonki mere andar spirit of mumbai hai’ !!! Arre uska boss usse naukri se nikalega agar chutti mari toh! When the water has receded, people are EXPECTED to be back, right?


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s