NEW DELHI, India — For Mumbai residents who fell asleep before the sounds of gunfire and grenades shook the city, the November 27 morning headlines of The Times of India delivered the news: “War on Mumbai.”
Many simply dismissed the sounds of what the newspapers described as “terror through the night” as firecrackers. Others heard rumors that it was just gang violence “" the seedy underground of Mumbai temporarily rising to the surface. But in South Bombay especially, still others stayed up all through night, listening to the sounds of AK-47s reverberating into the air, glued to their TV sets and cell phones as terrorists attacked five-star hotels, a city train station, hospital and a cineplex.
For nearly sixty hours, fewer than a dozen terrorists held not just Mumbai, but all of India, for ransom. For three days, Indians throughout the subcontinent sat mesmerised by their television sets, eventually resigned to watching the same images repeat over and over once the government finally had the acumen to push the media back from the frontlines. On day three, even as people returned to work, Mumbaites were unable to resume normal activity with their usual resiliency. After Delhi’s September blasts, Assam’s October attacks, and even the 1993 Mumbai bombings (previously the most brutal terrorist attacks in Indian history) India always managed to bounce back into normal rhythms within a few hours, regaining the usual chaotic buzz that echoes on Indian city streets 24 hours a day. This time, however, the streets of south Mumbai were empty for days. This time people hid in their houses in fear.
“This isn’t something that we’d seen before in India, hostage drama,” said Kabeer Shrivastava the second day of the attacks. Kabeer is a lawyer who lives on Marine Drive, where the main hotel attacks occurred, and in front of the cineplex that was under fire. “I went out yesterday at 1 am and there was no one, not one person. Today it is the same, but in Mumbai people are always out. Now there is a looming fear, you could go out to eat anywhere and someone will shoot you.”
Yesterday in Mumbai, as the Muslim community celebrated the usually festive Bakr Eid (Eid al-Adha in the Arab world, or the Festival of Sacrifice), a holiday meant to commemorate Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Muslims instead decided to celebrate in a somber fashion, donning a black ribbon to signify the terrorism will not be tolerated. The attacks in Mumbai occurred just after India’s foremost Muslim leaders had gathered to issue a fatwa (Islamic law) declaring that terrorism is un-Islamic.
“How can you celebrate when your friends, people you know, are recovering in hospitals or mourning the death of their loved ones?” Asma Sheikh, an advertising executive, told the Times of India yesterday.
Figuratively speaking, much of Mumbai has donned a black ribbon.
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