Monday, October 05, 2009

Mumbai Terrorist Attacks: Anatomy of a Siege

Nearly a year ago now, we went on a road trip to Asheville, North Carolina, for the Thanksgiving holiday. We had about an hour left on the nine-hour drive when a friend called us from Chicago with the news that Mumbai was under attack. "Are you close to a TV?" he asked. Two hours later we turned on the TV in our apartment and saw the horror unfolding right in front of television cameras.

The rampage, the deaths, the agony, the chaos and the destruction - they were all there, the images constantly and relentlessly flitting across our screens, the cameras documenting the mayhem minute by painful minute. We had questions. Why did it take so long for the military forces to reach the hotels and the hospitals? Why were reporters not cautioned about broadcasting the tactics of security forces? Could the attacks have been avoided in the first place? Could the damage have been minimized?

In an article titled Anatomy of a Siege, Marie Brenner weaves in the numerous strands of the events that transpired that day in a gripping essay for the November '09 issue of Vanity Fair:

The city’s rage had narrowed down to one issue: long into the night a squad of police and a contingent from the army had stood outside the Taj while terrorists roamed the floors above, taking hostages. The police were waiting for orders from a commissioner of noble lineage who stayed put in his car at the nearby Oberoi hotel and for the arrival of commandos and anti-terror forces from New Delhi. From his station a few blocks away, A. N. Roy, the head of the state police, screamed at his men, “Why can’t they go in? Why are they standing there?” But powerful as he was, Roy could not directly command the local police. India is a top-down society of entrenched bureaucrats, with appallingly inadequate communication among agencies.


One of those trapped was Dr. Mangeshikar, who had started her evening declaring that she would stay at the wedding one hour tops. The hotel staff passed trays of sandwiches and drinks at Chambers. “Leave this kitchen right now—the terrorists are on the way,” Kang ordered. “They refused to leave,” Kang told me. “They said, 'We are preparing food and drinks for the guests.’” Kang ordered them again, “Leave! Your lives are in danger.” Dattatrey Chaskar, a waiter, begged Kang, “Save my son!” No one could find the young man. Later he would be discovered huddled among stacks of lamb chops in a cold-storage cabinet.

Parts of the story leave you shaken, you look at some of the survivors and wonder what you'd have done in their situation. Would it have occurred to me to conjure up a make-shift toilet out of sheets in a corner of the room for hotel guests holed up in a room - as it did to Mallika Jagad, who happened to be in charge of a banquet that day?

The entire story is available by clicking here: Anatomy of a Siege.

Related posts: Volunteerism vs. Terrorism


Aparna said...

I am from Mumbai and we stayed glued to the TV for the next 3 days those days.
Each and every person from the city was scarred by the incident. Later we went to the Taj to express solidarity with the staff and the people effected by the violence. I can not express in words how violated we felt that day.
I hope no country in the world goes through what we went through those days.

Anonymous said...

Didn't know this part of the story. Thanks for the link!

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I'm always bothered by those who say we have not been hit by terrorists since 9/11. I suppose that comes from those who don't think beyond our own borders, of which there are many. But by being that benign to the rest of the world, we don't understand the grasp of terrorism's grip.

Interesting post. I thank you.

Priyanka Rajkhowa said...

Thanks for sharing the link to this article Sujatha...will read the complete essay this evening...the excerpts sent a shiver down my spine, as I was reminded of the mayhem in Mumbai in those 60 hours around Thanksgiving last year...

Ugich Konitari said...


Thanks for posting the link to the Vanity Fair article.

But somewhere, reading through, there is an uncomfortable niggle at the back of the mind, which actually makes you want to ask , "Is Mumbai all about the Taj ?"....

Unfortunately, and thanks to television's constant harking, that is the impression created in the mind of those not Mumbaikars /Indians.

A lot of things that we ordinary locals were aware of , which appeared in local papers etc.

Yes, we are proud of the Taj. Yes its an icon. But I would have expected the lady who stayed so often in Mumbai to have a wider observation beyond the Gateway of India.

A lot of folks were upset with the elistist reporting . But I guess somethings will never change.

My little unelitist bit.

Read this ....

Anonymous said...

Oh, I can't imagine the heartache over this.

Sriram said...

just started reading the article. thanks for the link!

Hilary said...

It's so difficult to even try to imagine feeling that kind of terror... the thought that such ugliness exists in human beings. It's a heartbreaker.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Wow! What a horrid situation!!! Didn't know all these details... I am heartsick to think of what so many endured.~Janine XO

Sujatha Bagal said...

Aparna, I echo your wish too, but many in the Middle East and Africa go through much worse every day of their lives.

Partha, Sriram, Priyanka, you're welcome.

Julie, that is rather a closeted view of the world. I also think about soldiers that are dying everyday in conflicts.

Hilary, Janine and Meredith, thank you for your comments.

Ugich, I appreciate your thoughts. I can understand. But this is one article about one aspect of the story. It doesn't mean that the other aspects are not important. Thank you for the link. Will read.

Nagesh.MVS said...
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