Amchi Mumbai – Indomitable Spirit

During the evening rush hour on July 11, 2006 terrorists set off a series of seven explosions on commuter trains in Mumbai. At this point close to 200 people have lost their lives and no one has claimed responsibility for the blasts. The bombs are believed to have been RDX (a military grade explosive) detonated within minutes of each other in a coordinated attack on the Western Railway grid. You can draw your own obvious conclusions from that.

This is not the first time this has happened in Mumbai and unfortunately I don’t think it will be last. There were bombings in Mumbai well before 9/11 in 1993 and more recently in 2003. As someone who spent my formative years growing up in Bombay (back when it was still called that), I still stand in amazement at the capacity of the denizens of that city to absorb punishment and keep going. Many outsiders look upon this resilience as an attitude of chest thumping bravery.

When you scratch the surface however, you will realize that what drives this resilience is not some macho attitude or sense of pride. This intestinal fortitude to me has always been more an act of resignation as anything else. An offspring of Mumbai’s nonchalant “Chalta Hai” answer to every situation. Of all the mangled images I have seen in the past few days, the above picture one struck me the most. It was of an unidentified person who was injured at the Mahim railway station walking away from the carnage. I don’t see anger, grief or bravery on this man’s face. I see a person who has to put aside this horrific act of violence, somehow get home to his family today, and have the guts to get up and go to work the next day. It is this steely resolve that sets the people of this great city apart from all others.

It is the same resolve that manifests itself in the people of Mumbai coming together and helping each other out in times of crisis. According to news reports, before the police, the military or other help arrived, the slum dwellers on the side of the railroad tracks were pulling people out of the carnage, building makeshift stretchers out of sheets and transporting people to hospitals in auto rickshaws and taxis.

Last year I was stranded in Mumbai for 3 days after the city experienced a freak flood during the monsoons. 37” of rain fell in 24 hours and any semblance of emergency preparedness on the part of the government was washed away in the deluge. But the city kept going – thanks to the unselfish random acts of kindness displayed by the people of Mumbai who are often maligned as rude and uncaring. There was no looting, no riots and no price gouging. The citizens of Mumbai know that the only ones who will come to their aid during times of crisis are their fellow Mumbai-ites. They no longer look to the police, the state government or any other agency to help them anymore, and know that if they don’t help each other, no one will.

Just a day after the bombings, the trains are running, the shops are open and kids are riding the same local trains to go to school. I know this sounds clichéd but you won’t understand this attitude unless you have lived in Mumbai. You literally don’t have time to dwell or mourn or grieve in this city. You just shrug your shoulders even after something horrendous like this happens, and life goes on. It is not an attitude of callousness. It is indeed an act of resignation. No matter how bad it gets, people have jobs to do and families to feed.

It has been decades since I have lived there, but I still identify with that attitude. And no matter how many heinous acts these subhuman terrorists commit, they cannot and will not break this Indomitable Spirit. It is the city’s way of telling the terrorists – “You LOSE”. After all this is “Amchi Mumbai” – Our Bombay.

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