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Mumbai

Written on: Monday December 1st, 2008

A journal entry from: July 08 - Jan 09

A memorable day in Mumbai. I spent most of it wandering the streets looking at the sights. Those sights unfortunately now include signs of the recent trouble in the city.

I had planned to spend some time in Cafe Leopold, where I was told was the place to go to get some extra work in Indian films. I figured that I'd do my bit for normalising things by not changing my plans despite the fact that a number of people were killed there less than a week ago. The cafe opened for the first time since the tragedy at lunchtime, many famous patrons were there to offer moral support.

I have found the Indian media's coverage of the attacks in Mumbai as really quite odd. The cult of celebrity here is overwhelming. Predictably there have been shows on the TV with panel panel discussions and 'experts' giving their opinion about what has happened, why and what should happen now. The odd thing that most of these 'experts' aren't politicians, police chiefs or security professionals, but Bollywood stars. They are everywhere.

Something which is less of a surprise is the media wanting 10 second 'sound-grab' answers to what is clearly a complex issue.

Oh, and I experienced my first game of train rugby. When I got on the train to go back to where I am staying it was pretty crowded - I asked a guy whether it was the right train for Anderi station - he said yes, but that if I was getting off there I shouldn't sit down, but get a good sot by the (open) door or I wouldn't be able to get off. It was advice that I was glad that I heeded. I have been on the subway in Tokyo during peak hour, but this was something else. As we approached the station the carriage was pretty packed - but at the station hundreds of people rushed the train in a single swarm. The guy who spoke to me before told me to jump before the train stopped - which I did, unable to see the platform for the mass. Luckily my size was an advantage, and I hit the platform and stayed on my feet.

I can see how thousands regularly die in stampedes here.

Update 4 December:

My lovely host Rajshree and I went to a play a couple of nights ago - Me Kash and Cruise - about three friends experiencing the highs and lows (well mainly the lows) of life in Mumbai during previous unrest here. Quite poignant, obviously and thoroughly enjoyable.

Yesterday we went to the rally in the town centre - a week after the attacks here. The rally seemed to me to be very confused - a result perhaps of the extremely diverse nature of Indian society. I found the number of people who were preaching hate and encouraging war at the rally to be quite disturbing. It was a minority, but a sizable one. Many were also encouraging breaking relations with Pakistan. My personal view is that by cutting off dialogue, it is more likely that violence will ensue.

This issue has made me feel that I have to make sure that I stay informed (and not just by watching media reports with 10 second sound-grabs from actors and children) about what the politicians I vote for are doing. How does one communicate, in a way that is 'sexy' enough for broadcast media, that such problems are complex and a peaceful solution with require time and understanding? Or that citizens should take responsibility to inform themselves about what their elected politions are doing? Everyone I asked about what the purpose of the rally was had a different answer - ranging from 'to protest about what has happened' to 'because we should attack Pakistan now.'  

There were many people at the rally supporting a commitment to a peaceful solution to this issue and continuing open dialogue - but I didn't see any of these on the TV. I was interviewed for my thoughts by a local newspaper. I wonder if they will make it to print. I found it quite disturbing when a child of about 10 was being interviewed for TV. He was very emotional. I saw that he got a lot of air-time - such things make much more high rating news than the peace activists silently lighting candles.

There are elections here in 6 months. My fear is that reactionary figures and ideas will get an unequal share of the media coverage which may influence the vote and public policy with less of a focus on mediation and more emphasis on violence.

So, my time in India is coming to an end. What an amazing, complex multi-faceted place. I could definitely see myself spending a lot more time, or even living here.

 

 

 

From maire on Dec 7th, 2008

wow... so eventful. hope you're enjoying ethiopia!