Suketu Mehta has written extensively about the communal riots and concomitant mass killings in India, but watching the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai have given him some hope that Hindus and Muslims can look beyond the game of the terrorists. Trying to make sense of the attacks, he said he believed some 40 Muslims were killed during the attacks. They were killed not by the Hindus but in the mayhem created by the terrorists from across the border.
"I have written about how Shiv Sena slaughtered Muslims in Bombay in 1992 and how Muslims bombed the city," he said. "When the Gujarat violence took place and hundreds of Muslims were killed, I felt ashamed to call myself a Gujarati."
But something remarkable has been happening in Bombay in recent years, he said, adding that the Bombay police have been getting together Hindu and Muslim leaders and cooling down the hot air whenever trouble appeared on the horizon.
He calls the city Bombay, like fellow panelists Salman Rushdie and Mira Kamdar.
"Not one Muslim was killed following the attacks this time," he said.
Mehta also said that America and other countries should declare Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, some of whose officials have a long history of backing terrorists attacking India, 'a terrorist entity.' He said the agency "fostered the Taliban... and was involved in the recent destruction of the Indian embassy in Kabul."
It should also be banned, he said, for the sake of Pakistan. For the jihadists were turning their guns and explosives at the civilian government in that country.
For those who may think that the recent Mumbai attacks -- not to forget the spate of other terrorist attacks across India in the past one year -- were in response to the 2002 mass killings of Muslims in Gujarat, he declared: "One (terrorist attack) does not excuse the other."
Mehta joined Rushdie who slammed the security forces in India for their "lamentable" response to the newest attacks. The commandos took hours to reach Mumbai from New Delhi and then they had face almost helplessly just a handful of terrorists at the Taj who held the building and many guests hostages for over three days.
"There were (Indian) warships near Bombay," Mehta said wondering why they could not be of help.
Mehta, who was raised in Mumbai, returned to the city "that I had deserted" over two decades ago and lived there for some time before coming to America for graduate studies. "It gave me a home again... by telling me the stories," he said. His book Maximum City is filled with many of those stories he revisited a few years later.
This time too, the story telling is going on in his Bombay, he said. "But it is another kind of story telling, these are the stories of anguish."
But there was also hope and Bombay continues to be an endearing city, he said.
Among the hopeful signs he is detecting -- apart from the citizens trying to forge a new collective consciousness against terrorists who wanted to create new communal warfare -- is one in which the rich and upper middle-class are seeing the need to be involved in the political process.
In his Bombay, like in much of India, the poor really took voting seriously, he said, while the rich and upper middle-class remained uninterested because they thought they could buy the politicians with their money.
Now, they are seeing how infective politicians can be.
Seeing what happened in Mumbai recently and how the government failed them, rich and the poor are angry at the politicians. But the upper classes are also realising that if they have a bigger say in the way the city is run, there could be more accountability and efficiency.
There is a movement to elect the mayor and give him the control in running the city, he said.
This is one of the few good things coming out of this tragedy, he added.
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