Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…terrorist-free

On 26 November 2008, 10 Pakistani terrorists made their way by sea to Mumbai. Over the next three days, these men, linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, split up into pairs and made their way around the city shooting, bombing and lobbing grenades wherever they could. They killed 156 people and injured more than 300 others. Nine of these men were killed during the attacks.

Taj Mahal Palace Taj Mahal Palace, a target in the 2008 attacks

It was perhaps this event that was prominent in my mind when I first went to India, back in March 2011. At the time, I’m sure you’ll remember, I’d been having a bit of bad luck with a curse and God himself trying to kill me. My visit was a few weeks before my Thai blessings, meaning I had no protection against these attacks, so I was expecting, and lucky not to be on the end of, something unpleasant ending my life. I wasn’t too confident I’d make it out of India. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had a sneaky suspicion that it might have been terrorist related. At the time of the 2008 attacks, the England cricket team was touring (and some of the targets were filled with tourists) and this was the first time they had returned to India.

I left unscathed, fortunately, and, after escaping the Surat Thani floods, I got my blessings and since then I’ve had no further problems. So when I planned to return to India last November, I felt no fear. None, that is, until those bracelets snapped mere weeks before my departure.

In late 2012, the English cricket team were back in India for their first full tour since 2008. On 21 November 2012, the day I arrived in Mumbai, I was alarmed to see the front page news. I didn’t realise that the death penalty was still used in India, but I soon learned that it was. Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab (who normally goes by just his even names) was hanged. The 25-year-old had been given four death sentences and five life sentences, but somehow death won. Kasab was the one terrorist who was caught alive in 2008. Reports have it that Kasab, still firing away, was apprehended by a policeman wielding nothing more than a stick.

Much was made of Kasab’s execution in the news over the following days. Some were outraged that it had taken four years to bring him to justice while others couldn’t understand how it came so quickly after his mercy request was rejected. Some saw it as nothing more than a political move, with elections not far away. Others couldn’t see why he had skipped the queue, with other people sentenced to death long before Kasab and still awaiting the noose. (The joke here being that there is no queue system in India.) The free paper I got in my hotel warned of retaliatory strikes from Pakistan and, a couple of days later, quoted a terrorist organisation as saying they were coming.

Probably not terroristsProbably not terrorists

Without blessing and without cricket to go to for a few days (a possible target, but seeing as I was patted down by five police officers to go in each day, I felt pretty safe in there) I had to find some things to do. Some of the major targets of the attack (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus [CST] was the major station a few minutes away from my hotel and Leopold’s Cafe, recommended in all guides and in Shantaram) were hard to avoid.

Leopold Cafe The popular Leopold Cafe

Fast forward to the end of my trip, nothing had happened. There were no attacks on my birthday and within a month of me leaving nothing had happened. While I wouldn’t say I was disappointed that there hadn’t been another terrorist attack, I was beginning to wonder how I was going to finish this post. It was on Burns Night (Australian press is slow) that I read about the Terror suspects who had been arrested in Mumbai. When better to tell me?

In my time in Mumbai I walked past CST almost every day and I visited Leopold’s one evening (and had my best Indian food there). I went to the Gateway of India a couple of times which is right next to the the Taj Mahal Palace. And I didn’t get shot once. Want to know why?

Indian blessing

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3 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    We should do an experiment where we both travel to a ridiculously dangerous place (Mogadishu?) – you with your tatty bits of string and me as the control, sans prophylactic – and see which one of us lasts the longest before getting gunned down. Our respective times of death will definitively prove whether all spirituality is correct or bunk.

    I’m up for it.

  2. Madeline T. Sloan says:

    We have become desensitized to terrorism. We have suffered far too many terrorist attacks to remember and feel for each one. At least in my head, some dates stand out for their geographical proximity to me, while the others are one blurry mass of sadness. When I think about it, 9/11 means something to everyone around the world. It doesn’t necessarily evoke the same emotion, but everyone knows what it stands for. I’d really like to know how many Indians, forget the rest of the world, recognize Sept. 13, 2008; Feb. 18, 2007, Sept. 24, 2002, July 11, 2006; Aug. 25, 2007, or Dec. 13, 2001. Mind you, this selection is completely random, and literally the tip of a large, monstrous iceberg. My bet is the average Indian would know only two out these six. Not because he or she doesn’t care, but because all this is too much to remember. In a country where terrorism is gradually becoming “normal,” there’s only so much grief that you can feel, only so many dates you can recount, only so much you can mourn. If we cared any more than we already did, we wouldn’t be able to get back on our feet.

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