I was first alerted to the unfolding horror late on Wednesday morning (Pacific time) when my sister sent me a short email:
Unprecedented terror in mumbai. Dileep is holed up in Intercontinental hotel but safe. Rest of us are at home.I immediately switched over to cnn.com to see what this was all about, and was horrified to read about the deadly saga that was unfolding. The areas under attack were exactly the areas I grew up in. We lived between the Taj and the Oberoi, both a short walk from our flat. And my school was close to Cama hospital and Metro cinema. And I've taken umpteen trains from VT station. Worse still, my sister lives right near where we grew up, now very close to this war zone.
My brother-in-law was out for dinner at the Intercontinental, just down the street from the Oberoi. When news of the attacks reached the Intercontinental, the staff immediately closed all entrances to the hotel. Thus no one could enter, but nor could any one leave. So my brother-in-law was stuck in the hotel. He went up to to the terrace of the hotel, and from this vantage point he could see the gun battle unfolding at the Oberoi and the fires burning at the Taj. Fortunately he was able to call my sister and assure her that he was safe. He spent the whole night at the hotel, finally reaching home at 7am.
I spent Wednesday constantly checking various news sources for updates. At about 6pm I was reading the update from the Times of India online edition when I happened upon this chilling line:
The chairman of Hindustan Unilever Harish Manwani and CEO of the company Nitin Paranjpe were among the guests trapped at the Oberoi.Nitin and I are childhood buddies who grew up together in that very area. In fact, we were scheduled to meet next weekend. And now he was trapped in the Oberoi. I emailed some friends about his situation, but didn't get an update until later that night when my mother confirmed that he had been freed around 4:30am (India time). Apparently once the gunfire started, the staff quickly locked the doors to the room in which they were dining. And by God's grace the terrorists didn't try to enter.
My sister's close friend and mentor was visiting India from Singapore and he was staying at the Oberoi. When the attack started, he barricaded himself into his room and stayed there for the next 36 hours. My sister was constantly in touch with him via his Blackberry. Once again, by God's grace, the terrorists didn't get to him, and he was freed by the commandos once all the terrorists were killed.
I can't imagine the fear that Nitin and my sister's friend and all the others trapped in the hotels must have felt in those terrible hours. And what of the fear and anxiety felt by those close to the trapped people.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, there are more questions than answers. How many terrorists were there? 10 of them have been accounted for, but were there more and what are they up to now? Who really is behind these attacks? Is it the terrorist group Laskhkar-e-Taiba based in Pakistan? Certainly the sophisticated attack suggests significant military training. Was the Pakistani government complicit? Or, at least, did senior members of the Pakistani military or intelligence service unilaterally provide training and support to these terrorists?
And the most important question of all: what now? What should India do in response to these attacks? Certainly beefed up security is important---after all needing to fly in commandos from Delhi suggests a certain laxness that flies in the face of the risks. But does this mean that India, or at least the big cities, need to become police states with military personnel toting semi-automatic weapons visible everywhere you look? That would be a very sad outcome. But what's the right balance?
And what of Pakistan? Outright war with Pakistan would be very unfortunate as it would retard all the great economic progress that India has made. But going after the terrorist training camps in Pakistan seems essential. The best outcome would be if the Pakistan government, perhaps with appropriate pressure from the US government, sees that it is in Pakistan's best interest to help India in putting a stop to these terrorist training camps in Pakistan. Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times has a nice post on this.
I hope that the Indian government shows great strength and resolve in crafting a very effective response to this tragedy of 9/11 proportions.