Return to Mumbai

Todd Baer sees reopening of hotels that came under attack as a courageous act.

After Mumbai Christmas
The Taj Mahal Palace reopened on December 21 [AFP]

For nearly one month, Mumbai has been a city with a deep and painful wound, as people tried to recover from a series of brazen attacks on its people and landmarks. 


Mumbai hotels bounce back

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On Sunday, the atmosphere was different; different because it was filled to the brim with hope, courage and pride. I could see it in the look on people’s faces, in their energy, in the way they carried out their plans on this the only day off from work for most Indians. 

In a remarkable show of defiance, two of the luxury hotels that were attacked on November 26 reopened for business. The Trident, which is part of the Oberoi Hotel, opened with a ceremony led by religious leaders from just about every faith. 

Security was tight as Trident executives and hotel staff welcomed their first guests. Thirty-two people were murdered inside the Trident on the night of the attacks, and the hotel’s infrastructure was badly damaged. On Sunday the inside of the hotel looked brand new, and there was a sense of great optimism.

A few doors down, the landmark Taj Mahal Palace reopened the tower wing of its hotel. The main structure, which suffered most of the damage, and has been part of Mumbai’s landscape for 105 years, will take much longer to restore. 

Coming home

When I arrived here 20 days ago the mood was very different. I live half a world away in New York, but this was my third trip to Mumbai this year. 

On the flight from from Doha to Mumbai I met a woman who was visibly shaken by what happened in her city.

When I asked her what she thought, she gave me a response that I consider to be uniquely Indian because of its generous nature.

“How dare those people come into my city, and kill people from other countries,” she said.  Far more Indians than foreigners died in the attacks, but this woman was more concerned about what happened to the guests from around the world.

When I go through customs at Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, I am used to seeing wide smiles, family greetings and celebrations. Through the exhaustion of a 16-hour flight, one cannot help but be injected with the joy of the moment.

At least 195 people were killed in the Mumbai attacks [EPA]

But this time Mumbai’s main international airport was full of long and worried faces. No celebrations, no loud greetings, only sadness and anxiety.

It was a coming home of sorts for me because I lived here for five months; I have stayed in the hotels that were attacked. 

I have travelled many times through the main railway station where so many people died, and I have shared meals with friends and colleagues at Leopold Cafe where eight people were shot and killed. 

Coming back to Mumbai this time felt eerily similar to another coming home that I experienced eight years ago. On September 14, 2001, I arrived in New York to cover the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Newark International airport had the same dreary malaise hanging over it on that evening. 

Some people have compared the Mumbai attacks on November 26 to 9/11. That has been criticised because the number of dead and injured was far different, but there are some notable comparisons. 

The way the people of Mumbai felt after these attacks is the same way New Yorkers felt after 9/11. After spending the last 23 days here and travelling around India, the response has been the same. It has been one of courage, persistence and defiance.

Like New York did and still struggles with, Mumbai has a long road ahead in its effort for a full recovery.  Tough questions are begging for honest answers. 

Why the lack of intelligence, why the lack of maritime security (the attackers came in from the sea in inflatable boats) and why was the police force so ill equipped; using bamboo sticks and old rifles to confont AK-47 wielding attackers.

The owners of the hotels that reopened on Sunday, and the owner of Leopold Cafe who reopened three weeks ago took the first steps toward that journey by making crucial decisions.

They could have stayed down and took time to heal their wounds, and nobody would have blamed them. Instead they responded the way New York did after 9/11. They got back up and did so with remarkable speed and bravery.

Source: Al Jazeera