A defiant Mumbai returns to business

Residents angry over deadly attacks in India's financial capital

December 02, 2008|By Mark Magnier | Mark Magnier,Los Angeles Times

MUMBAI, India -

With a bit of pluck, even if was not always heartfelt, a touch of defiance and a dose of the city's famous resilience, Mumbai dusted itself off yesterday from last week's terrorist attack and headed back to work.

The trains were reasonably packed, traffic was beginning to resemble its normally chaotic self and shoppers eased back into the stores, even if many still were not buying much.

"Sure I'm scared," said Roshan Tengra, a housewife, as she headed into a Bank of India branch a few blocks from the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel where the most protracted militant attack occurred. "I haven't been out of my house for three days. But we have to start our lives again. Whatever else can we do?"

Mumbai and much of India has seen its confidence dented by a meticulously planned attack that started late Wednesday. Among the 10 targets were two luxury hotels, a prominent cafe, a Jewish center and a railroad station. When the last militant was killed almost 60 hours later, more than 170 people had died and hundreds of people were injured.

Shopping took on political overtones yesterday for people feeling a deep-seated anger at what had befallen their city.

"I want to shop just to show I'm not afraid," said research scholar Aparna Malvia, 28, as she looked at combs and accessories in a street stall in the Colaba Causeway shopping area. "If they dare, let them show themselves now."

She and others joined commentators and Indian celebrities in criticizing their politicians and government officials for their response to the attack.

Malvia said that she would torture the attackers herself if she got her hands on them.

"Of course, I believe in an eye for an eye," she said. "Human rights are for human beings. I don't think these guys are human beings. Who could kill children and attack hospitals like this? They're animals."

The Cafe Leopold, where nearly a dozen people died when two attackers threw a hand grenade and emptied two magazines from an AK-47 assault rifle in the dining room, reopened yesterday to a huge crowd.

Diners, well-wishers and the news media crowded narrow spaces between tables, and more people peeked in from the sidewalk, gawking at the large bullet holes in the window.

"I came for a bit of solidarity, to show support," said Jarrod Wood, 41, a musician from Australia who has lived in Mumbai for three years. "The fact that they apparently targeted foreigners makes me feel concerned. I think they're just trying to hurt India as it becomes more powerful internationally."

Farzad Jehani, the cafe's owner, sat down for a chat between calls and a steady stream of well-wishers.

"The support people have given us - we never expected such an outpouring. It's really unbelievable," said Jehani, who lost two staff members in the attack. "Our city will come back. But when are we going to put our foot down? We've seen attacks in 1993, 2006 and now 2008."

In the neighborhood around the Jewish center, where six hostages died, including an American rabbi and his wife, food vendors were back in place, most of the small costume jewelry and clothing shops had reopened, and foot traffic was picking up. There was also an addition: tourists in droves.

Dr. P.N. Vaswani sat in a small electronics shop talking to friends. The urologist hasn't performed surgery for the past three days: The stress he is feeling causes his hands to shake.

On Wednesday, he went to help a patient who was staying at the Taj Mahal hotel, only to stumble into the militants' rampage as he returned to the lobby. A retreat back into the elevator saved his life. He holed up in his patient's room for 12 hours until authorities rescued them.

"It will take me a while to recover," he said. "But the city is getting back on its feet as everyone starts working again, and I hope I'll be back at it soon as well."

As the sun set yesterday, some of the good news that the city had hoped for had not materialized. The stock market, which rose modestly Friday, closed down 2.8 percent. The city was also fighting other setbacks. A British government report named India one of the world's 20 most dangerous places a few days ago, and foreign teams might avoid the cricket-crazed country because of safety concerns.

But residents of India's financial capital say they are taking it in stride. Cell-phone messages spread widely yesterday urged people to stand up to their politicians and demand more protection.

"Let's ask for what's our right," said one. "The right to live fearlessly."

At the Gateway of India colonial-era monument just in front of the Taj Mahal, scores of students, tourists, residents and members of the news media gathered yesterday evening to hold banners and sing patriotic songs, the glow of hundreds of candles reflected in their faces.

"We're trying to tell people that India is unified," said management student Anshul Kabra, 23, holding a banner expressing condolences for the dead. "Mumbai's spirit never stopped because of this. We'll fight back, although some things will take longer to heal than others."

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