Saturday, November 29, 2008

a prayer for mumbai

On 9/11/2001 Tina called to ask why airplanes were flying into buildings here. She was overseas in Mumbai, and I didn't know what she was talking about. I hadn't yet heard about the terrorist attacks. I was at work with my head buried in my computer. Fifteen minutes later, I was being evacuated from my building. Like most people around the world, I spent the following days watching CNN.

On 11/26/2008 Tina called again. She told me she was fine and not to worry. Again, just like 9/11 more than seven years before, I didn't know what she was talking about. I hadn't yet heard about the attacks. I was just getting out of work this time around, and when I went home, I again spent the following days watching CNN.

Tina is my emergency alert system, and I trust her intuition and insight into unfolding events more than any news service. I also trust my girlfriend's take on what matters and what's relevant in any given situation, emergency or not. It comes as no surprise then that I trust what I'm hearing from her, in Mumbai, about what's happened there.

There are two things she talked about that I haven't heard here.

1) She says reports there claim up to 40 or so terrorists involved in the attack and not the 10-15 reported here, and the coordination behind and the money invested in the attacks was tremendous. Again seemingly more so than the reporting here suggests.

Watching CNN, and how they talk over the same footage, running on a continuous loop until they get their hands on something different, has a hypnotic effect. While they are ushering experts before the microphone to talk about al-Queda connections, etc. and answer the same inane questions, the viewer watches this same footage over and again. The building on fire. The hijacked police car driving down the road. The body picked up in the street. And what new details are mentioned are often lost by the mind-numbing format of what's been scrolling in front of your eyes.

Tina mentioned that satellite phones were found in the possession of the terrorists which they used to coordinate their attacks. In the case of those who stormed the Taj, two had booked a room in the hotel in advance to use as a command base throughout the attacks. Another two had been working as kitchen help in one of its restaurants so they had an intimate knowledge of the hotel's layout. I hadn't heard any of these details come out in reporting and, if they did, they were probably lost in the constant stream of looped video footage. Instead, I heard them talking about investigators sifting through the terrorist's "pocket litter," one of those terms that news reporters end up falling in love with and repeating ad nauseum.

2) The terrorists were thoroughly cold-blooded and diabolical in their disregard for human life while executing their plan.

This statement goes without saying, but it lacks any punch without specifics. In a chilling story, this is what Tina provided me. Unfortunately she did this last night before I went to bed, and I was unable to sleep soundly throughout the night with the images I had afterwards in my head.

In the Taj, they were apparently executing hostages with grenades instead of bullets. She told a story of how a couple of terrorists in the hotel room tied up a group of hostages, wolfed down plates of biryani taken from the hotel kitchen to keep up their strength, and then left the hotel room, dropping a grenade inside the door before exiting.

On one hotel floor alone, 20 dead hostages were found.

While watching TV, I kept seeing these explosions going off inside the hotel, wondering why they were indiscriminately tossing explosives around like crazed maniacs in a video game. The television coverage fueled this misconception, running text banners like "Terrorists Lobbing Grenades From Hotel Roof." The explosions were not indiscriminate, though. More likely than not, each one of those blasts marked the horrific death of a roomful of hostages, bound and gagged, whose last sight was a terrorist leaving the room and a grenade rolling across the floor.

Grenades were being lobbed outside the hotel, as well, but again not indiscriminately. They were apparently being dropped from the roofs and a transom overpass that ran above the street, connecting the main hotel to its tower wing. They threw grenades, from above, into the street crowds below to perpetuate the chaos outside on one hand as well as keep any vehicles -- emergency responders or otherwise -- from approaching the hotel on the other.

I didn't mean to come off seeming overly critical of the television coverage here. The TV stations are just doing the best job they can. My frustration is not with the reporting but with the real evil that exists in the world, and how it has reared its head yet again. It makes the global economic crisis look mild in comparison, not to mention the energy crisis, the environmental crisis of global warming, the dietary crisis of a fat America, etc ... or any of the many personal "crises" that we get consumed with on a daily basis that can't even be called crises in comparison.

My frustration is that someone I love is suffering in the wake of senseless violence that's all too close to home, and I'm not there for her. I'm in the midst of the holiday of thanksgiving with a tremendous amount to be thankful for, but I can't be thankful right now, not with the knowledge that this evil has once again announced its intention to make our world a living hell.

I pray for Tina, her family, friends, the people of Mumbai, India, and the rest of the world today. I pray that the horror of events in the past few days brings us closer together as human beings, as the horror of 9/11 did, and I pray this strengthens our resolve to confront and obliterate those who would act with such disregard for humanity. I pray with a faith that our common humanity will one day bind us indivisibly and make such terror and suffering an impossibility in our world.

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