Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Stopping the Spitting....कश्याचा गवगवा , कश्याची छी थू .........
My awareness of the Cama and Albless Hospitals happened almost 20 years ago, when one of our family friends had a pre-term delivery. It was the raging monsoon season, and it was advised that the baby be admitted to a place which had good neonatal facilities. Neonatal care,incubators and the like were still new things for us, and the little child was admitted to the Cama and Albless Hospitals , and remained there for a couple of months, till it was strong enough to be sent home.
This is one of the many municipal hospitals in Mumbai, and this particular one is dedicated to women and children. An old sturdy British structure from the days of the Raj, there are people who do their post graduate specializations registering there, and it conducts various types of gynaec training for government medical personnel across the state.
Why do I mention this hospital ?
The lead players in the Mumbai Carnage, first went to the main CST train terminus , and indulged in a wild spree, killing 45. Much to their surprise, the terrorists were then chased by cops and other people bearing guns and big sticks (lathis), and contrary to their plans, they ran helter skelter, landing up at the Cama and Albless hospitals. Service folks living on the premises, were threatened and shot and there was mayhem there, which attracted Mumbai's Police's best. There was complete mayhem, the jeep was commandeered by the terrorists and they careened out of there wildly shooting, till they were stopped, overpowered and almost beaten by a mob and arrested.
Other than reporting that the women and children patients were all cloistered in a huge ward with medical personnel, closed from inside, the TV channels had nothing more to report. Close by at the GT Hospital, another government hospital, casualties of the wild shooting at CST etc started appearing, and one heard terrible stories about a mother and her 3 month old child, in separate wards, the child crying for her mother, the mother with wounds on her chest, neck, back and arms, demanding to see her child to feed her, but unable to do so due to the injuries, and no one had the heart to tell them that the father of the child had died.
In all the brouhaha over the "iconic "structures of the Taj and the Oberoi/Trident, all the so called leading investigative and influential, TV channels forgot about these places, except to mention them once in a while in passing.
The average Mumbaiker does not go to the Taj or Oberoi.
These are places you glance at, from outside, while returning, from a dieseled open boat ride opposite the Gateway of India, as you avoid the clutch of photographers who insist on photographing you for a price. It's something you look at , reassured that you are making it back to the quay, as your boat chugs into its docking place.
For many ordinary people, a visit to the city involves a crushing train ride in the train, getting off at CST, and then taking another crowded bus, sometimes doubledeckered, to the area close to the Gateway of India. A walk in the sea air, admiring the Taj from a safe distance, dreaming of telling your friends , "you were there ", buying of , maybe balloons for the children and some snacks; maybe the mother will come out with a bunch of packed things she brought along, and the family makes an afternoon or evening of it, till some security personnel suddenly decides to whistle from somewhere.
The Oberoi evokes similar emotions, but the Taj probably evokes more personal admiration, , as it is older, has a lot of history and legend associated with it, and is owned by the Tata's , who are admired across the board by rich and poor alike .
All throughout the 52 hours of non-stop TV coverage, the emphasis was on the Taj, The Trident/Oberoi, and the Nariman house. Understandable, since the hostages were holed up there. But there were lulls, when old visuals were shown again and again by the channels, and even the reporters started getting repetitive .
At no time, did a channel go over to CST, where, those whose daily meal depends on a daily wage, were back on the trains a day later. There were no interviews with passengers, hawkers that throng daily outside the station , motormen and railway guards on their way home.
At no time did anyone go interview, those employees that live in outhouses of the Cama and Albless Hospital , who had casualties, that happened simply because someone opened a door to find a terrorist there. An old mother losing her only son, employed at the hospital. The day after the attack, women who had Cesarean deliveries just 1 day earlier, were so traumatized that they discharged themselves along with their newborns, and went home with worried families, possibly from CST, in the now empty trains, grateful for the space to lie down, something that would never be otherwise possible.
The only visual one saw regarding the hospitals was a board outside with a list of names of the dead and injured, and anxious people trying to read , amidst eyes that threatened to get clouded with tears.
Mumbai has had several calamities in the last 4 years. This was without doubt the most horrifying and long lasting.
But somewhere, at the back of a shocked and doubting mind, is a thought, that it was the Taj and Oberoi, that declared this to be a "happening" piece of news. The Cafe Leopold in Colaba, normally considered "happening" by all visitors , was similarly ignored. No visuals, no interviews.
Just reams and reams of interviews with people who apparently visited the Taj like I visit my local library. A justifiable regret over the loss of various arts and artifacts displayed there in. Interviews with people who remembered the plushness and wonder of it all.
There is a world outside the Gateway of India and Nariman Point(where the Trident stands). Mumbai runs on a daily basis because of those who inhabit that outside world.
Unfortunately, Our rulers too have this "posh" obsession. Visits are made in Z-security splendour by ministers , to the Taj and Oberoi. One of them even indulged in disaster tourism , as the TV channels called it, after every thing was over.
Did any of them visit CST and give a special pat on the back to the announcer , whose quick thinking directive to people, directing them to use a particular exit, saved hundreds of lives.? Did any of them go visit and reassure the staff at the ticket windows , who were threatened by terrorists and their windows smashed ? Did the minister for public health visit the hospitals , to commiserate with the staff and patients ? And let's not say that visits couldn't be made in the confusion . Those that were obsessed about being seen in their powerful accompanying outrageous security, managed to do so, in the midst of it all, and never mind of the police suddenly got diverted from the carnage.
Did I hear any one of the pillars of Mumbai society, so to speak , mention these ordinary places as they sat with outraged faces in TV discussions, shaking their heads about the Taj and Trident ? Did those TV anchors that organize candlelight vigils and then pretend they suddenly happened, even think of these other places ? Did those that showed rotating candles on their screen with changing images of the police top brass who were killed, even think of that ordinary policeman who was killed on duty, the 4th generation in his family to join the force , or even interview his family and/or colleagues ?
Doing all this now , is nothing new. The moment has gone.
Frank Lloyd Wright once said that "television was chewing gum for the eyes".
They kept chewing and chewing , looking at the Taj and Oberoi/Trident. Chewed some more, shuffling from one cheek to another.
Then they turned and spat.
At CST. And Cama and Albless. And GT Hospital.