Monday, December 1, 2008

Mumbai burns

.The Taj Mahal Palace hotel

It was with great concern that I witnessed last week's events in Mumbai, where gunmen killed over a hundred and fifty people and injured hundreds more. The city holds a particular relevance for me as I had the pleasure of visiting there in January 2007.

It is a place where colonial architecture sits alongside modern sky-scrapers with pavement slums squeezed in between; where the warm fuzz of the sea air radiates through you lending the surroundings an electric quality. It is the only truly cosmopolitan city in India, it's people are intelligent and dynamic, and it is possibly the one place in the country where I would consider living. However, beneath the idyllic exterior lurks a tumult of violence and intolerance which every now and then boils to the surface as it did last Wednesday.

Even more disturbing for me is the fact that I visited two of the four sites of the terrorist attacks, the Taj Mahal Palace as well as Leopold Cafe (made famous by the novel Shantaram). As a stand-alone image, the blood on the restaurant floor is upsetting enough; the fact that I felt that floor beneath my feet, remember the texture of the tables where I ate and drank and the people who served me, is especially chilliing.

Inside Leopold's

Amidst all of the chaos of last week it is pertinent to ask what motivates terrorists to do what they do. I feel passionately about my ideas sometimes and can get pretty irritable when others refuse to reconsider their opinions in the face of my arguments. But the anger that everyone feels at ignorance or misunderstanding is but a fraction compared to the rage that drove those dozen or so men to kill on such a grand scale.

Gateway of India, in the Mumbai harbour.
When I visited this was the venue of a jazz and classical Indian
fusion music show. It is also where the terrorists landed their boats
before storming the Taj hotel across the road (from
where I took this picture)

A large part of it has to do with religion, not only fanaticism, but religion in general. Religious feeling, particularly monotheism, instills the notion that only you have access to the Truth and that others' humanity is demeaned and deprecated by their varying interpretations of the world - be it the physical or the metaphysical.

Maybe those individuals would have found other reasons to pick up their weapons. Although the terrorists were Pakistani, many Muslims, particularly in Maharashtra, have lived a life of exclusion and deprivation, inhabiting the outer margins of the India Shining construction. There are some serious questions that need answering about the way in which the hundred million-strong minority of the adherents of Islam are treated in India and the extent to which an inclusive nationalism is promoted in that country.

Statue of Gandhi in a park
in downtown Mumbai.

But there is no excuse for what these men have done. They have taken away so many lives and ruined so many more and they have probably hardened the resolve of the Hindu hard-line. Under these circumstances, the words of Mahatma Gandhi are a fitting rebuke to terror:

"There are many causes that I am prepared to die for, but no causes that I am prepared to kill for."

If only this message had been heeded. How easy it is to destroy what others have taken so long to build.


Photos by David Ansara, Jan 2007


  1. Thanks for this David, beautiful pictures. I am truly saddened by all of this.

  2. Indeed. I have also been to Mumbai, in late 2007, and I loved the place. I stayed in the Salvation Army Hostel, only about 200m from the Taj Mahal Hotel. Your descriptions of the atmosphere and the people definitely resonate with me. These stupid attacks are very sad.

  3. Thanks Candice

    Yeah, I am also really depressed. Glad you like the pictures though. India is such a rich place for photography.


    I also popped in at the Salvation Army Hostel to visit some friends. It was big and breezy but really fun.

  4. Check out this article by Chris Hitchens on Slate Magazine entitled "Our Friends in Bombay - We must stand by our most important ally."

  5. I ate there a few times in January/February 1991 during the first Gulf War. Even then it appeared to be the most popular place for travellers in Colaba. Although I recall there being another place across the road that was frequented by back-packers.
    The food was OK then and the service was efficient. It definitely had a by-gone atmosphere - but the furnishings were fairly basic - tables - chairs - etc - however the prices were cheapish for Bombay.
    Haven't been back since - but - I guess - a lot has changed in intervening years.

  6. I like very much this kind of posts where present old pictures about these cities. It help us to know how were those places before. Thanks for sharing this with us. Viagra Generic Viagra