Many may have seen disaster movies like ‘The Poseidon’ ( a remake of ‘The Poseidon adventure’) or ‘The towering inferno’ or the Indian disaster movie ‘The burning train’. The common theme in these and similar disaster movies is people from different backgrounds with different stories coming together at a party or a journey. Newlyweds, old parents visiting, honeymooners, rich men and women come to throw their money around, politicians, criminals, long lost friends, relatives meeting up again and, of course, the staff. Then disaster strikes by accident or design and then the story is about how each of the characters react, cling to life, make up for their sins, value relationships again. Some die, some are saved. There are heroes and there are bums.
One of my least read posts is “Indian media’s top 5 prayers”. Although the prayers-list is not exhaustive it serves as a guide for me on the behavioural patterns of our media celebs and reporters. Their biggest excitement seems to come from the answer to one of these prayers. Anchors rush to courts like the Aarushi-verdict or to the Phailin cyclone spots in Orissa. They rush to terror-incident spots like on 26/11. Once the event or tragedy is over they return to the studios and blabber with assorted morons but don’t dig deeper into the incidents and tragedies. The Uttarakhand story was forgotten in just a few days. They don’t like that part of the job (The only story they seem to remember in the last 1786 years is Gujarat 2002). And then Rajdeep Sardesai asks the dumb question why it takes an outsider. I had to rap Numero Uno with the reply that Indian media celebs warm their bottoms in studios. Researching and writing requires getting out and doing some honest journalism. It requires patience and the urge to seek the truth. It requires waiting outside offices and standing in lines; something people like Rajdeep and his ‘Hammam’ aren’t used to. This is why foreigners with an obsession do that job.
Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark released their book “The Siege” about 26/11 a month back and it was discussed widely in the media. The authors have traced the people, their backgrounds, their deaths and their lives. The book is written through a timeline of those who became victims of the terrorist attack at multiple spots but particularly The Taj hotel. As in the disaster movies I mentioned, the authors bring in the characters from different backgrounds and different purposes and how they lived through hell for 3 nights and 3 days. 166 of them did not make it. It is not a ring-side view of the tragedy. It is a view from ‘inside’ the ring from those who shared the suffering. These include people who were acting to counter the attack; the Police and the NSG. There is no happy ending.
We’re all gonna die someday. Death is a certain uncertainty or an uncertain certainty. Most of us would like to choose how we die. It is impossible for those who weren’t inside the ring to feel what they felt or experience it. We may try but not even be able to understand their experience. We can empathise or sympathise with their suffering and their loss. Here’s a clip that might help understanding what it feels to be inside (Video 35 seconds):
There are two guys waving some shirt or garment as a distress flag in the clip above; one jumps off the building. There’s a woman feeling the heat of being burned. The book by Levy and Scott-Clark is written like a script to one of those disaster movies. There aren’t too many great revelations but it is more of a human story rather than a terror and intrigue story. Here are some selective passages from the book that I thought make important reading on what happened. The references in brackets at the end of each quote are from the paperback edition.
26/11 - About thoughts and actions of Rakesh Maria (JC) who had handled the 1993 blasts case:
Fidayeen rules were in play. They learn and adapt. We stagnate, squabble and steal from one another. Maria wondered if this force of 40,000, protecting a city of 13 million – well below the UN recommended minimum – was even capable of getting a grip on the crisis… At 22.40 he made an entry in the Control Room diary: “I have spoken to the Chief Secretary. We need the National Security Guard or the army to help us deal with this. This was the state’s call and it was still dithering. Then Maria had a 1993 moment. This felt like a nation waging war against Mumbai and in Maria’s opinion Pakistan was the obvious candidate. (Ch.3, Pg. 85)
27/11 - About thoughts of JC Rajvardhan, one of the first to be at the site at Taj:
The JC made himself a wager: there would no inquiry worth its salt. This was not UK or the US, where a powerful commission would bear down on every institution. The establishment would thwart any such investigation. No one would put their head above the parapet and afterwards the old, inefficient, corrupt regime would continue to rule the roost. (Ch.7, Pg. 195)
27/11 - Mike Pollack, a foreigner, observes:
All around him mobile phone screens glowed in the darkness. Some of the conversations made him feel like his teeth were getting drilled, including that of an Indian MP, who seemed to be giving a live TV interview. ‘We are in a special part of the hotel on the first floor called the Chambers. There are more than 200 important people: business leaders and foreigners’. Pollack whispered to Anjali: ‘Can you believe it? This f*****g idiot MP is blabbering our exact locations to CNN or something’. Friends in the US began texting to say that the Indian MP’s interview already being reported. A siege had just become something far more deadly. (Ch. 7, Pg. 209)
Authors: Afterword on examining police records in Mumbai:
But once we had begun trawling through the evidence the opposite seemed true. While the 9/11 commission of inquiry in the United States enlisted a ten-man bi-partisan board of politicians to probe every facet of the attacks, and the 7/7 inquiries in London spent six months recording every detail and witness statement, 26/11 received only a cursory grilling from the Pradhan Commission, a two-man panel formed in Mumbai on 30 December 2008 to explore the ‘war-like’ attacks on the city… Pradhan exonerated Mumbai’s police force, although it did accuse Police Commissioner Hassan Gafoor of failing to be visible. Even these weak words were rejected by the state legislature. Gafoor, who responded by blaming other senior officers for the mistakes of 26/11, died of a heart attack in Breach Candy hospital in 2012, by which time the majority of the Pradhan Commission’s recommendations to better detect future attacks (and thwart them) had still not been implemented. (Pg. 278)
Authors: Afterword on the govt delays:
The Black Cats created a forensic account of every minute wasted and submitted it to the Home Ministry. It is an astonishing document that still makes soldiers angry and details how a combined task force was unofficially mobilized at 10.05pm on Wednesday, 26 November 2008, just twenty two minutes after the first shots were fired in Leopold’s. By 10.30 pm , the Black Cats were ready to deploy to the technical area of Palam airstrip, but it would take another seventy minutes for the Cabinet Secretary, the highest civil servant in the land, to contact the NSG chief, Jyoti Dutt, warning of a mobilization without giving the go-ahead or revealing transport arrangements. (Pg. 284)
Authors: Afterword on Black Cats (NSG):
From Delhi it took more than two and a half flying hours to reach most other cities. The NSG proposed creating four regional hubs, but the proposals went unanswered. So did a second report advising the ministry that the Black Cats were ‘limping along’ because of corruption and lethargy in procurement. Presently the men were ‘woefully ill-equipped’. Applications for lightweight boots, Kevlar helmets and modern body armour, as well as hands-free communications sets, were in limbo. They were short of high-powered thermal-imaging units; their lightweight ladders dated from 1985; and they had no useable night vision devices, with one ministry official conceding that the NSG was ‘as good as blind’ and ‘could only work efficiently during daylight’. When the Black Cats flew into Mumbai it was a triumph of men over machinery, chief Dutt reflected to us. (Pg. 286)
Quoting any more would be a dis-service to the authors. Do remember there was someone in Delhi in the corridors of govt who is reported to have fed information to the ISI and who has been given the codename “Honeybee” by the authors. This Honeybee had probably relayed all the holes and weaknesses in our defences that the authors cite to the handlers of the terrorists. The authors mention the Indian media’s poor reportage and feeding terrorists only mildly. It doesn’t take a wizard to know the ISI and Pakistan were behind the attacks. Even the ‘Dehati Aurat’ knows that. The govt’s response and subsequent measures to counter terrorism doesn’t demand much to applaud. The terrorists are not only from across the border but also within our land; in sleeper cells, various govts and, particularly, in the media. Even our counter-terror policies are dictated by religion and “Sickularism” and not by security concerns for the people and the country. Nothing has been learned.
Rajdeep’s tweet was ignorant hypocrisy but he means well. He sometimes thinks better when he is off TV. He is not entirely accurate, though, when he says there are no Indian writers and researchers who write “our” story. There are some who wrote some articles claiming “revelations” about 26/11 (Like a Scumbagini from Tehelka who wrote a grand conspiracy which the rag quietly deleted later because it was as spurious as Tarun Tejpal) and there is at least one who researched very deep and came up with an answer to who was behind the whole attack on Mumbai and India. You see, the Hindus are upset that India has progressed far ahead of Pakistan. They are upset that we are still a democracy. They are upset that the Taj Hotel, an architectural beauty, is still standing. The Hindus want to destroy it all. That is what one moron called Aziz Burney tried to imply in the very Indian book “26/11 – An RSS Conspiracy”. And there is the Congress “Liar-in-Chief” Digvijaya Singh, of the Congress party, approving and releasing the book at a function. Alongside him are scumbags like Mahesh Bhatt whose son, Rahul Bhatt, was one of the bimbos exploited by David Headley.
In “The Siege” the authors narrate how Uncle Zaki (of LeT) tells the terror recruits who were to attack Mumbai how India has progressed at the cost of Muslims. How Muslims in India and Pakistan are suffering and their condition must be avenged to please Allah. That when the recruits die their faces will glow, they will have made Allah happy and they will go to paradise. Welcome to hell, this IS paradise! There have been many terror attacks since 26/11 and the Indian govt has shown no inclination whatsoever to hound and clean up terrorist sleeper cells. The Home Minister writes to CMs not to arrest Muslims. Of course, the morons will keep telling you terror has no religion. And when leaders and ordinary people withstand these terror attacks they call it a conspiracy too (Miracle at Gandhi Maidan). As long as terror sympathisers are within our land there will be a bigger 26/11 attempted. There’s nothing learned; all pain and no gain.