Monday, December 1, 2008

Mumbai... Scattered Thoughts

I've been trying to digest all of this. I didn't know what to think. I still don't. This past weekend I'd wake up and immediately tune to MSNBC to see what was going on in Mumbai. Usually one to get a rise out of an uncle with hereditary hatred for Muslims I'd be lying if a bit of his hatred didn't rub off on me. Rhetoric I previously passionately spoke up against rang through my head processed by filters that gave them attention I previously wouldn't. I still don't know what to think but I'm done placing blame. In the end, it's not about Muslims or Hindus of course. It's not about past versus present. As an admitted Diaspora-nut I'm used to thinking of things in dualities but it's not about this culture versus that culture. I remember talking to a friend about it in a far too casual way: "Why can't these dudes just watch a movie and chill out? Eat some food or smoke a hookah and relax? All the time... infidel, bomb, bomb, infidel..." Probably not the best way to think about this.

And then I thought of 9/11. I thought of sitting in class and seeing the events occur on the news while simultaneously seeing them occur outside of our classroom window. I thought of how chaotic the third-floor atrium was that day. I thought of people's cell phones not working and my parents trying to reach me. I remembered the dust. I thought of how my Hindu friends and my Muslim friends came together to walk miles in a group of 30+, sometimes carrying a friend with a broken foot. I recalled a speech I made to a crowded Brooklyn Tech auditorium about not wilding out on Muslims in this confusing time. I thought of people yelling at a Muslim girl we were with and the hijab she wore. I remember us defending her. I began to wonder why this time around I was so quick to place blame and get on my hate grind when previously I was quicker to get on my defense grind. It's strange, this diaspora business - relating to a country I've been to 3 times more than one I've lived in for 23 years. THAT AIN'T RIGHT.

Something Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City, wrote in his New York Times Op-Ed stood out to me. "And now it looks as if the latest terrorists were our neighbors, young men dressed not in Afghan tunics but in blue jeans and designer T-shirts." I've heard some of them were British citizens. If that's the case, they could have easily been American citizens. They could have been people I grew up with in Queens or went to high school with at Stuy. What interests me is that the media doesn't focus on the possibility that some of these guys are from our Western world, but instead that they targeted those from the Western world. When you look at the number of Western citizens killed versus those from India, the numbers don't add up. I keep hearing reports of the terrorists asking for British and American passports, though 2 American residents, 1 American ex-pat, and 1 British resident seem to have been the only victims. The targets seem to be South Asians who embraced Western Culture more so than Westerners that embraced South Asian culture and that's a key distinction. Mumbai is where you would find most Indians who embrace Western Culture.

It's ironic then that the Taj would be a target. Though it houses the world's wealthiest now, its origin is one the terrorists could have been proud of. As the winner of the Booker Prize, Aravind Adiga, writes in the Times (of UK): "In the 19th century, the legend goes, an Indian tycoon was refused admission into a whites-only hotel; he decided to start an hotel where a man would never be judged by the colour of his skin." I've dined at the Taj. I shopped there. It was rad. I don't know if it's related to recent events or perhaps my appreciation of Slumdog Millionaire or reappreciation of Indian films or living at home again - whatever - but more than anything, and much to the shagrin of my parents because of those same recent events, I want to go back to Mumbai. In a way it was more modern than New York to me. The people, the fashion, the scents in the air, the food (sorry), the music, the general vybezzz never left me.

As Mehta put it, "the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder."
Here's "O Saya" by AR Rahman and MIA from Slumdog's soundtrack:


Sara'o said...

Perhaps what struck me most was the incessant media coverage. Like... since when!? When the Mariott was hit in Islamabad we didn't hear about it, at least not like this. What is it about the Taj that bothers the West so much? The "Westerner as target" theory doesn't sit well with me either. A lot of talk has centered on the difference in the tactics used in Mumbai. I can't help but feel that the cameras would be far less interested in a suicide bombing at the Taj. This was an act of resistance. The images from the restaurant, the image of the Taj burning, the train station, the hospital. This was a coordinated revolt. Terrorism is about coercion through fear. I think that was the stumbling block all of the terrorism experts were tripping over. Resistance movements are aimed at thwarting the occupation of an invading force.

On a different note, it was great to hear some desis on IBN take over CNN! The shrieks of "Can you believe it! Five bombs going off in the Taj!" were totally amusing. I also really enjoyed the loiterers right after it happened running around behind the reporter yelling "Idhar Ao, Bomb Blast! Bomb Blast!" I really love Indians, man.

By day two of the coverage, I saw one of CNN's black correspondents picking up and imitating some totally Punjabi hand gestures in his video convo with a correspodent in Mumbai. Something I never thought I'd ever see.

Sara'o said...

That comment doesn't make a lot of sense bu I'm in class... On another note, Heemz, peep this:

My mom has it hanging on the fridge. I think it's ill.
Notice, his man is BLACK.

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