It is all too clear that the Mumbai terrorists were outstanding at their vocation. This was true in a purely technical military sense - after all, as few as ten of them were able to hold off the massed might of India's security forces, including her best commandos, for more than three days. But it was also true in a more important functional sense: they were highly effective at inspiring terror. They chose precisely the right targets in a country whose institutional and cultural weaknesses they understood and were able to exploit. Though the real horror of their attacks was the murders they committed and tried to commit, they inspired massive fear far away from the symbolic targets they chose. Indeed, what I found in Mumbai during the four long days of the emergency was that the fear they provoked increased the further you got from the loci of their actual attacks.
The terror instilled by the attacks was somehow deepened by the news coverage, with its melodramatic music, its repetition of rumours and supposition, and its sheer ghoulish relentlessness. But the terror seemed from my experience to have a proportionately stronger effect on the well-off and socially prominent. The poor of the city, like the inhabitants of Colaba Market in south Mumbai, where three of the attacks took place, are perhaps more fatalistic and resilient, having dealt with life-threatening floods, riots and terrorist attacks before. Mumbai's working- and middle-class commuters were back on the trains the day after the horrific railway bombings of July 2006. This time, smart shops stayed closed not just in Colaba but far away in central Mumbai, and hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, stayed home, glued to their TVs for days on end.
Thursday, November 27
I get to Mumbai (almost all residents still call it Bombay even though they have long called themselves Mumbaikars) in the evening, about 24 hours after the terrorists attacked. After walking through the gleaming but half-empty airport terminal, I find it all but impossible to get a cab down to my hotel in Colaba. The drivers are convinced either that the south of the Mumbai peninsula is too dangerous or that a police curfew has cut off all road access to the area. As my hotel has reassured me, it turns out that no such cordon or curfew exists. The one brave driver willing to take a German businessman and me makes it down to the bottom of the peninsula in a quarter of the usual time. Despite the fact that the emergency is at its height, there are no roadblocks except in the immediate vicinity of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels. Indeed, when I drop the German at his seaside apartment, we go straight through a police checkpoint that has apparently been abandoned. "Oh, the police always leave the checkpoints at midnight to go to sleep," the businessman tells me. "Security was supposed to have been boosted because they were expecting attacks here after the bombs in Jaipur and Bangalore, especially during Diwali [in early November], but nothing really changed."
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