Monday, December 01, 2008

Mumbai Mon Amour.

Rega lCinema, Mumbai
I first came to Mumbai in 1972 as a young hippie on the soul-seekers trail, I was so poor I slept on the streets but the Mumbaikers always looked after me, even the legless beggars fed me. I love the city so much I've come again and again over the years, its vibrant culture, the awesome Saracen/Gothic architecture, the refreshing sea breeze, sitting on a mat on Chaupatti Beach with my friends looking at the stars, the skyline of Marine Drive, the yummy restaurants and cheerful pubs, the wonders of the sculptured caves of Elephanta, and the many cinemas showing hot shlock movies, (lately I enjoyed "Deathrace" very much, perverse of me considering all the machine-gunning it contained.)

When in a good mood I even adore the ebullient crowds rushing about the Arabian Nights buildings, where even the desperately poor find some succor and can be seen laughing with the joy at being alive in such an industrious metropolis. (Of course, I've seen them wailing piteously too for Mumbai can be very cruel, and right now we all have our hearts broken.)

I was here a week ago and sat in front of the majestic Taj Palace Hotel and all over again was awestruck by it's fabulous architecture, gazing up into the mystique-lit windows, wondering what the life of the rich ensconced within was like, wishing that one day I could afford to stay just one night there. And I walked past Leopold's Cafe on the Colaba Causeway, it was packed to the rafters with yammering tourists, even a crowd on the footpath outside swaying to the music, Indian boys flirting with laughing blond girls, many desperadoes trying to grab a hold of me to sell whatever rubbish they could, not interested I rush on by, for me the cafe is a tourist trap, a place to meet and be seen by any and all , an easy place to find trouble.

Now all of it blown away, the Taj a burned out, blood-soaked mess, the lifestyle of the rich and famous tarnished, they too can't escape the awful realities of this hate-filled world. And Leopold's Cafe shut up and dark with only candles burning for the dead giving any light; as much as it wasn't my scene I still couldn't help but cry for all the pain and horror that had been visited upon it, it was a site of joy which are becoming rarer these days. The terrorists struck here first as a diversion for the unprepared security forces, then running to the backstreets to plant a bomb outside my favorite pub, the Gokul, which would've blown the whole area to smithereens except that it didn't go off, thank nogod, and in passing they shot a couple of hapless locals dead in their shopfronts for bad measure.

Ten were killed at Leopold's, at least two were foreigners, and many injured, (it's hard to get the exact figures), and the freedom of an open society was trampled upon. For some arcane reason, the Indian media/authorities seemed to obfuscate on the massacre at Leopold's, concentrating on the Taj and Oberoi Hotels, maybe because Leopold's and Colaba are a central site for the masses of ordinary tourist activity and They don't want to scare the Christmas visitors off.

The maniac murderers then made it several blocks away to Sivaji Train Terminal and slaughtered 58 innocent souls there, many of them their fellow Muslims, as well as the three top anti-terrorist cops shot dead out the front, caught by surprise without their bullet-proof vests on. They hijacked the dead-cops car and drove to a nearby hospital where they murdered staff who, kind and unwitting, gave them water for their thirst. Continuing on their death-dealing spree they shot dead an old cop out the front of my favorite cinema, the Metro. At another of my beloved cinemas nearby, The Sterling, the management, knowing about the reign of terror in their vicinity, kept the late show audience in the theatre all night, feeding them from the food-court, and only letting them go home in the morning when it was safe. (I bet I would've squawked and thrashed about demanding to be let out declaring, "Terrorists don't scare me!")

The psycopaths then drove to Chaupatti beach where they were stopped by a police-blockade and one of them shot dead, the other captured to spill his guts about his Pakistani origins and beg for mercy, he'd been brain-washed by fundamentalist crackpots. All of these sites attacked, butchered, destroyed, were favorite haunts of mine and I could've been passing thru any one of them except it's not my kismet, not yet anyway, and so my heart is heavy with anguish.

I had arrived back in the city on the last day of the siege at the Taj, I knew it was all happening but I didn't let it put me off, I came regardless, for I love Mumbai so much I wanted to share in her grief and sorrow and, while most tourists fled, I wanted to show the locals that this particular tourist wasn't going to let the murderers cower him, curtail his freedom or lower his estimation of the city and it's free-wheeling nature. I saw saris hanging like ropes out of the Taj windows by which some must have escaped, the magnificent domes charred, the windows smashed. The streets of the city were deserted, the shops shut up, the pubs and clubs darkened, the beaches empty of their crowds, the populace in shock, depressed, then angry. I sat nonchalantly in the Shivaji Raiway Terminal reading a newspaper while a mate went to buy train tickets. A cop walked past and beamed a huge smile upon me, happy to see a tourist not cowed, still enjoying the freedom of the city, in the very area where the biggest slaughter took place.

Where were their leaders, what do they do to earn their privileges and high status, where are all the vast resources going? This terror attack was done so easily, in hindsight the targets so obvious, there's no protection on the streets, at famous landmarks, at soft-spots like Leopold's, the coastline is as open and vulnerable as a poor-man's chest where a thrust of a knife to the heart can be made in a flash.

Now the powers that be are rushing about in a tizz, suddenly there are machine-gun toting guards at every seven paces, the movements of us tourists are restricted and so we suffer doubly, all a bit late, the crazy horses have already bolted. Those in power paid to have forethought and act accordingly, spend too much time navel-gazing and turning up their noses at us peasants on the streets, and only an explosion in Their face snaps them out of their daze, into a flurry of useless restrictions and finger-pointing, all of it to settle back into lassitude and business as usual elitism, till the next horror descends.

Still I love the country, it's all-suffering people and pagan culture, it is an attempt at an open pluralistic democracy, far from perfect but getting there and I pray the society doesn't close down and become a police state, with the life of the ordinary people on the street harried and run down as the ruling class carry on with their careless, limousine cavalcade, only giving a shit about their 5 star lifestyle and not a fig for doing their job to the best of their ability. Mumbai mon amour, I love you so much and cry with you and will always come back to you, no matter what comes your way, I am irrevocably attached, the strings of my heart entangled, I can never undo the connection, all the terrorists in the world be dammed.

P.S.: A week after the attacks, Leopold's Cafe opened for business again and patrons, mostly Indians, sat at their tables as if to defy the hate-fueled madmen but the mood remains dark and sombre. The hotels had withstood incredible damage and remained standing but not so the heads of govt., the non-leadership collapsed and was removed, the populace rightly blaming them for their lazy, brainless attitudes.

Yet the dithering goes on, a week later a huge bomb was found at Sivaji Train Terminus in the baggage claim area where the terrorist had left it amongst the belongings of the dead and injured and only a miracle stopped it from bringing the stunningly beautiful edifice down upon the heads of the common throng. No wonder most tourists fled, it's still dangerous here. Thousands of Mumbaikers march across South Mumbai in protest, shouting slogans, letting off steam, hoping things will change. But with hate as a religion in itself, population pressures, war for dwindling resources, economic collapse, hope for the future is dim, all the gods should be left in the medieval past and humanity care for each other as if its one big family. More likely humanity will turn cannibal and treat each other as larders.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.