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".

How true.

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.

It stuck.

At CST. And Cama and Albless. And GT Hospital.


  1. Your posts are so very touching and always strikes the right chords with me.

    I agree that emphasis was more on what went on at Taj and Oberai. I am ashamed to admit that I did not think about those unfortunate victims.

    Reading your views make me reflect on myself and my environment more intensely. Thank you!

  2. We in the U.S. did not know of these poor people. I join you in your dismay. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Thank you for writing this! Felt sick with how the media coverage went.

  4. Kay is right, we didn't get news of the people who needed the most attention of all. I feel so deeply for the people of Mumbai! The picture of the mother who lost her son that I posted on my blog is burned into my mind and heart. Thanks for another very moving and informative post.

  5. How true. What made me really sad was that all we got to see on CNN and other news channels in US was Taj and trident too...because guess what the hindi channels were showing sas/bahu serials and had no plans of showing any breaking news whatsover.
    Being a thanksgiving holiday all the Indians were glued to the tv especially to the indian channels hoping to find out something more..but nope.. no coverage at all.
    Why was ram gopal verma with the chief minister when he "toured" the taj after everything was over?


  6. That's terrible and how it has been around the world, certainly in this country also. The ordinary people don't matter. It's what has gone so terribly wrong and has to be changed.Thank you for posting about this.

  7. Don't forget the Jewish Centre (and the little baby saved by his Indian nurse).

    It seems these attacks were designed to make deep wounds not only in flesh but in imagination ; everybody was a victim from the "ordinary" people going back from work to the very rich. It reminds me of nazi designs.

    From the hotels, I have been much impressed by the number of people saved by the courage of others (as much as 600 ?). Wow.

  8. I never heard about the hospitals either. How horrific. I am shocked. I think that the TV boradcasts we got to see were mainly focused on the hotels where the tourists and business people were staying and they were not focused on much else. Thanks for your post.

    The impact of this will be a nightmare for many for a long time to come. I do not understand evil like that.

    Thnaks for sharing this with us and I hope you are doing well. Thinking of you.

  9. my post touched on this..then i wondered whther i was being fair...sitting as i was here in singapore...

    reading this, unfortunately has confirmed what i thought had happened...

    those taxi drivers, those dead at cst..i wondered a lot what happened to them...

  10. Babu Bhaskaran The urge to appropriate credit where none is required and justified is a hallmark of our rulers. Announce ex-gratia payments, and they think their work is done. .....

    Kay,Sylvia I guess , as Rain says, this happens all over. A lot of folks here would earlier associate the US with things like Hollywood. Thanks to the Internet, and ease of travel, and tourists, people are learning......

    Vinita I think people here have wizened up about the TV anchors and channels. But you would be able to read about the ordinary people if you saw the timesof india, mid-day-or indian express, or dna websites.

    About the minsiters and RGV, "te sagle eka maleche mani ahet;jitkya lavkar maal tutel, titka bara ahe..."

    Rain Countries may be different economically and in their cultural DNA, but isnt it amazing how the rulers all confirm to the same philosophy .

    Helene What you say is true. The Jewish Baby is now safely back with his grandparents , along with the nanny. And there must be so many similar stories around that no one highlighted. And yes, the bravest folks in this whole thing have been the most ordinary folks who rushed in without adequate protection, like the firemen, who rescued so many, with just a helmet for protection.

    Lilly Glad to know you are safely back from Thailand and all those airport hold ups.

    Isnt it strange , how money "talks" everywhere ? How the TV channels can develop a tunnel vision to the exclusion of others around. In the meanwhile, ordinary city people, who continue to travel by the trains and buses, (and dont go into a depression over a 1 inch dent in their BMW), are rushing in to donate blood at the public hospitals, so much that you now need to wait almost a full day till your turn comes. ....

    Suma This kind of thing happens in every calamity doesnt it ?

  11. Should it surprise you that media didnt go to the cama or the CST station at all ???

    So many blasts have happened all over the country but our country never reacted and all of us included frankly. Remember the government politicians are people from amongst us.

    This is the first time that the elite have been killed.

    The attack on the VIP's, foreigners and the hi-fi's in a way have helped India wake up...

    Had it been only VT station and innocent street walkers only god knows how we would have reacted...

    However i must say that lets leave all the infighting and blame game remain for a while and go after the people who planned and sent these terrorists.

    We cannot allow them to go scot free... The Demarche given to Pakistan must be honoured by Pakistan with action and not mere words... if Pakistan cannot hand over these 21 people than we should go independently on Pakistan Sovereign soil and bring these people to justice.... Let the Demarche not get lost. The media & all common people must focus on that and not deviate... No matter what price and what action it takes we must have these cowards behind this to India and punish them.

    Also received the following text today morning which i must mention :

    Quote :

    The recent terror attacks in mumbai have been a total failure from the terrorists point of view. Instead of spreading fear, they have angered the nation, united the country, woken up the politicians, facilitated the strengthening of armed forces and police, given India international support and put a lot of pressure on Pakistan, where the terrorists were breeding.

    Please also note : The muslims in Mumbai have declined to even bury the bodies of these terrorists in their graveyards.

    Unquote :

  12. Dear all,

    Pl. find below the link to the petition which outlines the minimum action that is expected of the government. Idea is to present a humungous amount of signatures (minimum 1 million, if the media participates unitedly, this no. can go upto even 20-30 million)

    A group of people from cross-section of the society (hopefully backed by a large rally and media coverage) will present this petition to the Prime Minister around the 15 December asking for a formal reply from the Government to the action expected by the public and the timeframes within which the action should be expected.

    Requesting not only your signature on the petition but also your support to forward this to all your friends. Should your organisation be maintaining any email databases, request your support to mass email this petition request to all on your database.

    Please view and endorse the below link at PetitionOnline.com. Please type in your full Name. (if clicking on the below link does not take you to the page, pl. cut and paste the link in the address bar of your Internet Explorer or Firefox)


  13. well said!

    a couple of days back there was a blast in a train in assam. 2 killed 30 injured. which channel covered it? none! why? assam does not figure in trps. bihar floods - thousands perished. what coverage? abysmal! why? no trps from poor bihar.
    money rules!

  14. Very true. Thanks for tilting the mirror away from "Hi Society" to "The Ordinary man".
    BTW, I never got any email from you. Could you write to me at rajani102@yahoo.com?

  15. Thank you so much for sharing this. I guess that was something the media couldn't hype it up - I never heard of it, despite the all day media bubbling... So glad there are bloggers like you!

  16. And all this from the same channels that keep talking about the aam aadmi at other times.

  17. You are right. There was total chaos in the reporting we saw on television, which is perhaps understandable. But this blatant focus on only one part of the tragedy is not! I really had no idea about what exactly happened at CST or Cama hospital or outside Metro till I spoke with my parents. And these are the real landmarks for us ordinary Mumbaikars. CST?!!!

  18. There are many firsts. This is the first for the 'big' folks that have been targeted. But somehow, i see them these as symbols of Mumbai. So, in a way, this an assault on all of us.

    But you make a very valid point. No channel went over to CST or to the taxis that were ripped apart in Vile Parle and Santa Cruz.

    I also read in the papers that it took an inordinately long time for the 'common' dead to be taken out from the mortuary vis-a-vis those who lost their life at the Taj....

    But over riding all of this...my theme and constant thought has been what can we do ? What can i do ? Maybe we need to do something to fill in for our bit...

  19. I watched constantly and did not see anything on t.v. about the hospitals and people there. I feel like we only see what they want us to see and many times the real picture is completely left out. I saw a lot of chaos in reporting this incident and did feel I was not seeing the entire picture.

  20. I agree completely. Not only TV channels but many of us missed this point too.

  21. What jumps out for me Suranga is that the crowd chased the armed terrorist with sticks and stones. There is so much symbolism in that. Wonderful.

  22. That was a well written, rather long post. You said it.

  23. Hitch writer Thank you for your comments. But I have had it up to there with candles, and signatures and processions.

    In all the time that the state had no Head (our CM having resigned under "instructions"), did anyone even say a word about 3 days being taken to appoint a chap as per "Delhi"'s wishes, while so many urgetnt decisions got held up ? Appearing on TV is one thing. Having guts is what our armed forces showed.

    magic eye, rajk, fida, usha, devaki Thank you for the comments. A week has passed, and the papers are NOW coming up with little stories from "littler" places, all un-starred. Because it suits their sales. And because there is nothing else to report.

    Kavi It all depends on what you percieve as BIG. Some feel its the captains of Industry, commercial icons and others, who pay to be publicised. (They even have departments for that.) Others think its folks like the 60 year old illieterate sweeper lady at VT who was shot, struggled to live for 4 days in hospital, unkonown to her family, but slogged to raise the family in a hut, to today having railway quarters, and educated children, all on her own meagre salary.

    At the end of the day, whoever the media fawns over, gets dinned into our brains, and is percieved as BIG.

    Such a pity.

    Judy,Vivek,June, Writing for crows Thank you for your comments.

    And did anyone hear about the police constable who held on to the sole surviving terrorists rifle with his bare hands in an effort to stop him shooting, while the often cursed bystanders beat the hell out of him and allowed him to be arrested ? The constable is in hospital with serious injuries.

    No we hear about already BIG folks lighting BIGGER candles ......