Antulay – actually, WHY we need an apology

It is unfortunate that we as a country are becoming an extremely intolerant society. While it is true that the three officers who were part of the ATS were actually killed by the terrorists, what Mr. Antulay is asking needs to be heard out. If he had alleged that the officers were NOT killed by the terrorists who came from the sea, I think he should have been unequivocally and IMMEDIATELY sacked from all posts that he was holding on Govt pleasure. On the other hand, if he asked for a probe into the three officers who were killed, it may not need to be sanctioned, but also it gives nobody a right to ask for his scalp.

It cannot be denied that the three officers who were killed were the same officers who were probing the Malegaon blasts. It certainly was unfortunate that all the three officers had to be killed by the terrorists? Cant a Central minister ask for a probe in such a situation?

In all the news items that I have scanned, I have only heard him say that the reason why they were going towards Cama Hospital needs to be investigated.

If Mr. Antulay needs to offer an unconditional apology, it should be for casting aspersions on the entire police force of Mumbai regarding the death of Karkare, by his stupid and insensitive rant, not for actually asking the question.

There does not seem to be a reason for this rabid mongering except the fact that he is a minister, a Muslim, and part of the UPA establishment. Which really is a pity.

Democracy as a victim

It is unfortunate that we as a country are becoming an extremely intolerant society. While it is true that the three officers who were part of the ATS were actually killed by the terrorists, what Mr. Antulay is asking needs to be heard out. If he is alleging that the officers were NOT killed by the terrorists who came from the sea, I think he needs to be unequivocally and IMMEDIATELY be sacked from all posts that he is currently holding on Govt pleasure. On the other hand, if he is asking as to why these three officers were going towards the Cama Hospital, where there were relatively less “happening” than at Taj, Oberoi or the Nariman House, then I think he needs to be listened to.

Who send these officers there? I remember that on the day this carnage occurred, there were some dimwits who suspected these three officers of playing to the gallery by posing for photographers in their bullet proof vests before joining the hunt for these terrorists. They had obviously already received news of the attack. The question that Mr. Antulay is asking is, “Why Cama Hospital”

I am absolutely sure that there could be a perfectly reasonable answer for the same.

But does that mean that the minister cannot phrase a question that begs asking, at least as of today, without having the “mobocracy” descend on him asking for his scalp?

There does not seem to be a reason for this rabid mongering except the fact that he is a minister, a Muslim, and part of the UPA establishment. Which is a pity.

Lest we forget Mumbai – Series. Vol1 Iss1

The first in the series of work commemorating the life and events at Mumbai during the 26/11 carnage.

Heroes At The Taj

Michael Pollack 12.01.08, 7:40 PM ET

My story begins innocuously, with a dinner reservation in a world-class hotel. It ends 12 hours later after the Indian army freed us.

My point is not to sensationalize events. It is to express my gratitude and pay tribute to the staff of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, who sacrificed their lives so that we could survive. They, along with the Indian army, are the true heroes that emerged from this tragedy.

My wife, Anjali, and I were married in the Taj’s Crystal Ballroom. Her parents were married there, too, and so were Shiv and Reshma, the couple with whom we had dinner plans. In fact, my wife and Reshma, both Bombay girls, grew up hanging out and partying the night away there and at the Oberoi Hotel, another terrorist target.

The four of us arrived at the Taj around 9:30 p.m. for dinner at the Golden Dragon, one of the better Chinese restaurants in Mumbai. We were a little early, and our table wasn’t ready. So we walked next door to the Harbor Bar and had barely begun to enjoy our beers when the host told us our table was ready. We decided to stay and finish our drinks.

Thirty seconds later, we heard what sounded like a heavy tray smashing to the ground. This was followed by 20 or 30 similar sounds and then absolute silence. We crouched behind a table just feet away from what we now knew were gunmen. Terrorists had stormed the lobby and were firing indiscriminately.

We tried to break the glass window in front of us with a chair, but it wouldn’t budge. The Harbour Bar’s hostess, who had remained at her post, motioned to us that it was safe to make a run for the stairwell. She mentioned, in passing, that there was a dead body right outside in the corridor. We believe this courageous woman was murdered after we ran away.

(We later learned that minutes after we climbed the stairs, terrorists came into the Harbour Bar, shot everyone who was there and executed those next door at the Golden Dragon. The staff there was equally brave, locking their patrons into a basement wine cellar to protect them. But the terrorists managed to break through and lob in grenades that killed everyone in the basement.)

We took refuge in the small office of the kitchen of another restaurant, Wasabi, on the second floor. Its chef and staff served the four of us food and drink and even apologized for the inconvenience we were suffering.

Through text messaging, e-mail on BlackBerrys and a small TV in the office, we realized the full extent of the terrorist attack on Mumbai. We figured we were in a secure place for the moment. There was also no way out.

At around 11:30 p.m., the kitchen went silent. We took a massive wooden table and pushed it up against the door, turned off all the lights and hid. All of the kitchen workers remained outside; not one staff member had run.

The terrorists repeatedly slammed against our door. We heard them ask the chef in Hindi if anyone was inside the office. He responded calmly: “No one is in there. It’s empty.” That is the second time the Taj staff saved our lives.

After about 20 minutes, other staff members escorted us down a corridor to an area called The Chambers, a members-only area of the hotel. There were about 250 people in six rooms. Inside, the staff was serving sandwiches and alcohol. People were nervous, but cautiously optimistic. We were told The Chambers was the safest place we could be because the army was now guarding its two entrances and the streets were still dangerous. There had been attacks at a major railway station and a hospital.

But then, a member of parliament phoned into a live newscast and let the world know that hundreds of people–including CEOs, foreigners and members of parliament–were “secure and safe in The Chambers together.” Adding to the escalating tension and chaos was the fact that, via text and cellphone, we knew that the dome of the Taj was on fire and that it could move downward.

At around 2 a.m., the staff attempted an evacuation. We all lined up to head down a dark fire escape exit. But after five minutes, grenade blasts and automatic weapon fire pierced the air. A mad stampede ensued to get out of the stairwell and take cover back inside The Chambers.

After that near-miss, my wife and I decided we should hide in different rooms. While we hoped to be together at the end, our primary obligation was to our children. We wanted to keep one parent alive. Because I am American and my wife is Indian, and news reports said the terrorists were targeting U.S. and U.K. nationals, I believed I would further endanger her life if we were together in a hostage situation.

So when we ran back to The Chambers I hid in a toilet stall with a floor-to-ceiling door and my wife stayed with our friends, who fled to a large room across the hall.

For the next seven hours, I lay in the fetal position, keeping in touch with Anjali via BlackBerry. I was joined in the stall by Joe, a Nigerian national with a U.S. green card. I managed to get in touch with the FBI, and several agents gave me status updates throughout the night.

I cannot even begin to explain the level of adrenaline running through my system at this point. It was this hyper-aware state where every sound, every smell, every piece of information was ultra-acute, analyzed and processed so that we could make the best decisions and maximize the odds of survival.

Was the fire above us life-threatening? What floor was it on? Were the commandos near us, or were they terrorists? Why is it so quiet? Did the commandos survive? If the terrorists come into the bathroom and to the door, when they fire in, how can I make my body as small as possible? If Joe gets killed before me in this situation, how can I throw his body on mine to barricade the door? If the Indian commandos liberate the rest in the other room, how will they know where I am? Do the terrorists have suicide vests? Will the roof stand? How can I make sure the FBI knows where Anjali and I are? When is it safe to stand up and attempt to urinate?

Meanwhile, Anjali and the others were across the corridor in a mass of people lying on the floor and clinging to each other. People barely moved for seven hours, and for the last three hours they felt it was too unsafe to even text. While I was tucked behind a couple walls of marble and granite in my toilet stall, she was feet from bullets flying back and forth. After our failed evacuation, most of the people in the fire escape stairwell and many staff members who attempted to protect the guests were shot and killed.

The 10 minutes around 2:30 a.m. were the most frightening. Rather than the back-and-forth of gunfire, we just heard single, punctuated shots. We later learned that the terrorists went along a different corridor of The Chambers, room by room, and systematically executed everyone: women, elderly, Muslims, Hindus, foreigners. A group huddled next to Anjali was devout Bori Muslims who would have been slaughtered just like everyone else, had the terrorists gone into their room. Everyone was in deep prayer and most, Anjali included, had accepted that their lives were likely over. It was terrorism in its purest form. No one was spared.

The next five hours were filled with the sounds of an intense grenade/gun battle between the Indian commandos and the terrorists. It was fought in darkness; each side was trying to outflank the other.

By the time dawn broke, the commandos had successfully secured our corridor. A young commando led out the people packed into Anjali’s room. When one woman asked whether it was safe to leave, the commando replied: “Don’t worry, you have nothing to fear. The first bullets have to go through me.”

The corridor was laced with broken glass and bullet casings. Every table was turned over or destroyed. The ceilings and walls were littered with hundreds of bullet holes. Blood stains were everywhere, though, fortunately, there were no dead bodies to be seen.

A few minutes after Anjali had vacated, Joe and I peeked out of our stall. We saw multiple commandos and smiled widely. I had lost my right shoe while sprinting to the toilet so I grabbed a sheet from the floor, wrapped it around my foot and proceeded to walk over the debris to the hotel lobby.

Anjali and I embraced for the first time in seven hours in the Taj’s ground floor entrance. I didn’t know whether she was dead or injured because we hadn’t been able to text for the past three hours.

I wanted to take a picture of us on my BlackBerry, but Anjali wanted us to get out of there before doing anything.

She was right–our ordeal wasn’t completely over. A large bus pulled up in front of the Taj to collect us and, just about as it was fully loaded, gunfire erupted again. The terrorists were still alive and firing automatic weapons at the bus. Anjali was the last to get on the bus, and she eventually escaped in our friend’s car. I ducked under some concrete barriers for cover and wound up the subject of photos that were later splashed across the media. Shortly thereafter, an ambulance came and drove a few of us to safety. An hour later, Anjali and I were again reunited at her parents’ home. Our Thanksgiving had just gained a lot more meaning.

Some may say our survival was due to random luck, others might credit divine intervention. But 72 hours removed from these events, I can assure you only one thing: Far fewer people would have survived if it weren’t for the extreme selflessness shown by the Taj staff, who organized us, catered to us and then, in the end, literally died for us.

They complemented the extreme bravery and courage of the Indian commandos, who, in a pitch-black setting and unfamiliar, tightly packed terrain, valiantly held the terrorists at bay.

It is also amazing that, out of our entire group, not one person screamed or panicked. There was an eerie but quiet calm that pervaded–one more thing that got us all out alive. Even people in adjacent rooms, who were being executed, kept silent.

It is much easier to destroy than to build, yet somehow humanity has managed to build far more than it has ever destroyed. Likewise, in a period of crisis, it is much easier to find faults and failings rather than to celebrate the good deeds. It is now time to commemorate our heroes.

Michael Pollack is a general partner of Glenhill Capital, a firm he co-founded in 2001.

Pakistan needs to look within

Pakistan has a twisted history, (which is again a misnomer, because what kind of a national history can 61 years produce?). That is a prime reason for the utter turmoil that ravages in its conscience.

When we studied history, we studied about the Indus Valley Civilization, the Harappan culture, the Golden period of the Guptas, the slave dynasty, the Mughals and then the British.

AND we can identify with the same even today.

Try being in a Pakistani teacher’s shoes.

All these terms are equally applicable to their history too. And continuing in the vein, it would be natural for the curious-minded to find out what created Pakistan. To know that Pakistan exists only because of its religious identity would be too shallow a platform to build a nation (Well, yes. THAT is another misnomer) It is here that the deviousness kicks in. The anti-India rhetoric gets sown in the schools only a measure to prop Pakistan as a credible nation vis-a-vis India. After all India is the raison d’etre that a “Pak”istan had to emerge to counter the “Hindu”stan.

Anybody questioning such birth would be classified as a traitor, I believe. Add to this, the dismal financial condition and the vicious grip of the ISI and the army on the body polity of Pakistan, the menu for a terror harping neighbour is ready.

My thought is that there can be no peace in the region, until Pakistan comes to terms with its past. Not an easy thing to do since it can ignite seccesionist tendencies. 🙁

Sanjay Dutt commented on the “Mumbai Carnage”

In the last three days, when our city was held hostage yet again by a bunch of terrorists, there were countless moments when I was reminded about the ’93 serial blasts. And the serial train bombings of 2006.

After this massacre, the city will never be the same again. The drama that unfolded at the Taj Mahal [Images] Palace and Towers where innocent families were burnt to death and staffers shot by terrorists brought tears to my eyes. My colleague Ashish Chowdhry lost his sister and brother-in-law during the gun battle at the Oberoi Trident, and so did many others. But where is the solution? Can our government assure us our safety? I don’t think so. The disasters come and go but the approach of our government stays the same.

Every day when I drive to Film City at Goregaon East to shoot for my films, I have this strange feeling. The car next to mine could be driven by some terrorists who can spray bullets at me. I don’t mind admitting that I am scared. What kind of a democracy is this where Z-category security is given to VIPs and there are no attempts to safeguard the life and homes of common folks?

For how long will they let innocent people be persecuted for no fault of their own? There has been a blood-bath in the city. When will our VIPs understand that? Government officials should sit up and act now. We cannot continue to have such a haphazard approach to terrorism.

We haven’t seen any heinous acts of terrorism being repeated in the US after the 9/11 attacks. Like them, why can’t we take precautions to be safe rather than sorry? This episode was really the final nail on the coffin.

As responsible citizens we pay huge amounts of taxes every year, but our infrastructure and security systems show no signs of improvement yet. If this is how it’s going to be, we should stop paying taxes.

My father Sunil Dutt was a member of the parliament and he couldn’t achieve anything because he was the lone fighter when it came to improving the quality of life of people in this city. Now the government and citizens will have to unite in waging a war against terrorism.

As long as we are going to be threatened by some cold-blooded terrorists, we need to invest in equipping our cops with modern warfare training, equipments and ammunitions. We need to back our brave police officers and other security agencies. The heroism they have displayed during the last three days shows that they can match the best forces anywhere in the world.

Our brave-hearts from various security agencies have dealt with a bunch of killers who had rowed their way into the city. But now we have to deal with people who seek our votes.

As told to PEOPLE magazine’s Sandipan Dalal

For Sanjay Dutt to be commenting is indeed brave! And commendable. As a revered priest of the Church once commented, “the difference betweena thief and I is that the thief was caught.”

We all have times in our lives that we seek answers in rebellion to established authority. We are seeing such an act right now. There is understandable and sometimes even right reasons for such response. But when the time lapses, the wise sit down and formulate their future strategy so that the lessons learnt in a tragedy do not need to learned again.

There were reasons for Sanjay Dutt to have taken up arms, as heinous as the reasons were. He was caught. But the honourable court in its wisdom has seen it fit to leave Mr. Dutt with a mild sentence. Though I do not approve of the sentence, I would not rant against the court’s judgement. But considering Mr. Dutt’s post-Mumbai-riots behaviour, I am happy that the courts did as they did.

And the comments above are further evidence that Mr. Dutt does not contemplate taking law into his own hands, under trying circumstances.

It is a lesson to a lot among us to tighten our moral and ethical fabric so that we do not stumble or go wayward in our search for justice.