Mumbai struggles toward recovery

Trust, sense of security shaken

business and tourism hurt

November 30, 2008|By Mark Magnier | Mark Magnier,Los Angeles Times

MUMBAI, India -

In normal times, money drives Mumbai. And even as police detonated grenades they removed yesterday from the last redoubt of a terrorist band, residents fretted about the effects of three days of violence on the energy that unites rich and poor, Hindu and Muslim in India's commercial capital.

By targeting two luxury hotels, a restaurant popular with tourists and a Jewish center, the attackers appeared intent on destroying Mumbai's economic livelihood, driving away foreign investors and tourists, analysts said.

With police saying they had killed the last of the estimated 10 attackers in the vast reaches of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel early yesterday, Mumbai residents breathed a sigh of relief. Their city, positioned on seven islands, which is home to India's Bollywood film industry and some of the world's most expensive real estate, has proved its ability to bounce back from misfortune.

But recovery could take a while this time.

Ordinary Mumbai residents probably will think twice about going to crowded markets, cinemas and railway stations. At the 150-year-old Crawford Market, Mumbai's largest, long, thin carts wended their way through narrow alleys of shoppers, sugar cane juice vendors - and potholes.

"Big big sale!" yelled one merchant.

"70 rupies - anything we have!" yelled another.

After a two-day shutdown amid the crisis, the crowds were drifting back, but still much smaller than normal

"They just wanted to hurt India's economy," said Badshah Sheif, a merchant selling duct tape in a stall smaller than a phone booth. "But we'll work together and get business moving again soon."

Several miles away from the market is the Taj hotel, where police said they had killed the last of the attackers. Official estimates of the death toll climbed to 195, including 20 soldiers and police. Eighteen foreigners were reported to be among the dead, six of them Americans.

Police were going through the hotel yesterday, looking for booby traps and removing bodies. Fire and police officials brought explosives left by the attackers out onto the seaside promenade to be detonated. Sheets that desperate hostages used to escape still were hanging from window frames.

The blasts of the explosives echoed off the 103-year-old building, and flocks of startled pigeons took flight.

Jay Makhijani watched as police carefully removed a box from the hotel, then detonated the leftover grenades. Makhijani runs high-end jewelry shops inside the hotels that were attacked - the Taj and the Oberoi.

He hadn't seen either since Wednesday and said he was worried about the damage.

But the Mumbai native said he was optimistic and that he believes the city and his stores will bounce back soon enough.

"If the restaurant was open in the Oberoi tonight, I'd go there for dinner," the businessman said. "That's how badly I want things to return to normal."

It might take longer to restore trust between majority Hindus and India's Muslim minority. Indian officials have suggested that Islamic militant groups based in rival Pakistan who were responsible for previous attacks in India also launched this attack.

Indian media reported that the lone attacker who was captured had confessed to being a member of one of the groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba, but that could not be confirmed. Pakistani officials say India has provided no proof, but they condemned the attack and said they would investigate any evidence.

"This will make people fearful and distrustful of Muslims," said Naved Akhtar Mirza, a Muslim who runs a restaurant specializing in biryani and kabobs beside a blue mosque. "They're going to say all Muslims do this sort of thing. I have many Hindu friends, but the politicians use these tragedies to stir up trouble."

Rahul Bose, a Bollywood actor and social activist, said Indians put up with poor water-supply, sanitation and flood-control systems, but until this attack they thought they still could expect a reasonable level of security.

Reports indicate that the heavily armed attackers landed in rubber dinghies within a mile of a major army, air force and naval base. Then they kept police and soldiers at bay for nearly three days, shocking city residents. "Psychologically, this is our 9/11," Bose said. "It's a terrible statement on the commercial capital of India."

The poor seem as traumatized as the rich.

Fisherman Eknath Tandel earns $2 a day, except during the four-month monsoon season, when he earns nothing. With the high cost of fuel and nets, he's barely getting by and doesn't welcome further economic damage.

"They wanted to attack India by attacking its economy," he said. "But all we can do is keep powering along."

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