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It can only happen in Mumbai

July 14, 2011 13:12 IST
Yes, Mumbai has been sucker punched again. As much by its own as by the bastards who routinely put bombs in crowded places, says Sumit Bhattacharya.

'I don't get it,' wrote a friend, who is in his early thirties, on his Facebook status message a couple of weeks ago. 'Why can't we be out on the streets at night without the cops having to tell us to leave? Isn't it their jobs to keep the streets safe so we can be out no matter what the time?'

I think you will agree that it just about sums up the relationship most of India shares with its police force. For sure in Mumbai, the great city once again bleeding from another terrorist attack.

The Mumbai police had initially declared the terrorist siege of November 2008 as a gang war. Even in Wednesday's serial blasts, till an hour after people were frantically trying to get through loved ones on suddenly jammed phone networks, the brave Mumbai police was busy describing the explosions as an air-conditioner blast and an electricity repair job gone wrong.

These are the same men who can drag you to a police station because the bar you were drinking at is not authorised to serve alcohol. If you ask why the bar is up and running, and why aren't the owners being arrested and how were you to know, your questions will fall on deaf ears till you call up someone high up.

This is the same police force that has had great success busting rave parties -- even those held in remote jungle areas -- and at catching kids 'dirty-dancing' in pubs.

This is the same city where hired gunmen kill fearless reporters in the day time.

This is Mumbai, Maharashtra, where the police use the Official Secrets Act to arrest a journalist who exposes how sophisticated weapons bought after 26/11 for the modernisation of the police force are going bad in godowns that can't keep the rains off.

Perhaps it can only happen in this city, where Adarsh is a joke. A city where unreal estate prices are pushed further up every day even as builders destroy state forests and ecologically crucial mangrove clusters.

Where eyesores called skywalks are built for billions and then marked to be torn down for the metro rail project's phase two. Where billions of rupees are spent on beautifying posh Marine Drive while the teeming middle class braves packed beyond capacity trains and nightmare -- nay, nightmares are shorter -- traffic from the unplanned suburbs.

Mumbai, where some of the world's richest men live. Mumbai, which has the worst roads among India's metros.

Mumbai, which mirrors New York -- down to earmuffs despite a nonexistent winter -- in fashion. Where PhD holders think of their out of state colleagues as migrant labourers. Where you can be denied a pigeonhole on rent because of your religion, your food preference, or your marital status.

The city of private paradises and public hell. Where frightening armoured cars now pass you by if you want to catch a late night kebab at Bade Miyan in Colaba.

Mumbai, which makes dreams come true. Mumbai, that must pay the price. Where pigeons flying helter-skelter means a bomb blast, or a gunshot. Where images of blood on the streets always seems like a rerun.

Mumbai, that must go to work the next day, no matter what.

Wading through dirty water when the rains routinely make a mockery of the municipal corporation's annual monsoon preparedness. Wading through debris when terrorists routinely make a mockery of the police's perpetual preparedness. Wading through traffic pileups caused by political rallies.

Yes, Mumbai has been sucker punched again. As much by its own as by the bastards who routinely put bombs in crowded places, police nakabandis -- the Mumbaiyya term for street checks -- be damned.

Yes, Mumbai will get back up and trudge back to work, uncomfortably numb. Not for its famed resilience, but simply to survive.

Sumit Bhattacharya