Mumbai, we always knew was the next target for a terrorist attack. We expected the serial bombs to strike almost any day. We were extra vigilant– once I had been evacuated from a shopping mall, I never stopped eyeing every seemingly abandoned package suspiciously, I saw a lady get off a train just to report a suspicious laptop. I trusted our Eyes and Ears. Because we are the next target, we would never actually come under attack, I thought.
Then last night, the hubby came home telling me of how a taxi-bomb went off under a flyover while he was waiting at the nearest traffic light to get under it. He’d seen the police taking charge and cordoning off the entire area.
“Is it now Mumbai’s turn, or was that just an isolated incident?”, we wondered as we switched on the television. The news channels were full of it – blasts at VT station, shooting at the Taj and Trident hotels, reports of violence from other places.
“This doesn’t seem to be too serious”, I thought; images of bombs going off at crowded places during peak hours still fresh in my mind. Sure there were many incidents of violence, but where was the panic, the visuals of the dead and wounded being taken away from the blast sites, the relatives crying into microphones while searching for their loved ones? Firing in the lobbies of five-star hotels late at night seemed very tame in comparison.
If the purpose of terrorism was to strike fear into everyone’s heart, to have people constantly looking over their shoulder wondering if they would be next, then this attack has definitely failed, I thought naively as I finally dragged myself away from the television and into bed.
This morning, I slept a few minutes longer than I normally do because I knew I would not be sending the kids to school for at least a day. When I stumbled to the television and turned on the news channel, the news was the same, but the tone of reporting had changed. The terrorists who had holed up in the hotels were not there seeking shelter as I had previously assumed – they had taken hostage the guests and the hotel staff. It was an attack of terrorism the kind of which India has never witnessed in the past.
The profile of the victims had changed – not innocent middle class shoppers, but high spending foreign tourists and people at the highest echelons of business India. This was no hit and run operation like the previous ones had been, this was a well planned operation that could take days to defuse. In case of all the previous blasts, except for the grieving relatives and friends, life returned pretty much to normal in a few days.
Not so here. Twenty hours later, terrorists are still holed up in the hotels. People are still being held hostage. Unlike in the books and movies, these hostage dramas lack real drama - one person is not being executed every hour. Instead, the army commandos are stumbling over the bodies of the dead and injured as they try to evacuate the two places. There are explosions, and gunshots being captured on camera, but nobody knows if it is a part of the army’s tactics to flush out the terrorists, or if they are traps that had been set by the terrorists and set off by the commandos.
The stock exchanges remained closed today, as were most of the offices in the area. But what about tomorrow? Or the day after? How long will the operation take? How long will the roads remain deserted? How long will the repercussions continue? How long will it take for India to recover from the potential loss of the corporate honchos stuck in the two hotels?
This is the New Face of Terror! And it looks exactly as cowardly as the previous one did.