Columnist: Mumbai Bigger Than Terror Attack

Writer Shobhaa De is a columnist in India. She's written about what the terror attacks mean to Mumbai, and she says the terrorist were trying to send the world a message. But she tells Steve Inskeep Mumbai is bigger than any terrorist attack.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, let's turn now to writer Shobhaa De, who's a well-known columnist in India. Well-known columnist may not capture it all; she's also a best-selling writer, designer and many other things. Welcome to the program.

Ms. SHOBHAA DE (Writer & Columnist, India): Thank you.

INSKEEP: You write in a blog that the terrorists picked their targets well. What do these hotels in particular mean to Mumbai?

Ms. DE: They're institutions. I mean, the Taj Mahal Hotel, for example, was constructed in 1903 by one of the great city fathers as a response to the British, who refused to let even well-affluent Indians into their hotels and clubs. And it's a magnificent structure; certainly, all of us in Mumbai think of it as a jewel.

INSKEEP: Weren't you married there?

Ms. DE: I was married there. My daughter was scheduled to get married there 10 days from now, and most of our happiest associations have been in that hotel. I live very close by.

INSKEEP: Are you determined to have your daughter married there still?

Ms. DE: Absolutely, if the hotel will be secure enough and will be open for business - which I doubt because it's been almost entirely gutted from the inside. I think my daughter just might be willing to wait and postpone her wedding because we want to prove our defiance, and we want to prove that life will go on in the city, and we will not compromise.

INSKEEP: You've - you've suggested one way that the Taj Mahal is central to Mumbai life, that it was built as a kind of statement against British - British colonialists. You've mentioned another, that people hold personal events like weddings there. Is this the center of social life, this hotel?

Ms. DE: It is very, very much the center of social life, social activity. And I remember as a schoolgirl standing outside the Taj Mahal, which faces the Gateway of India - which is another fantastic architectural building, which was constructed to welcome King George to India, as a matter of fact, and is an emblem of the city. And as a schoolgirl, I remember standing outside and wondering whether I'd ever be able to afford going into the hallowed premises - forget about holding my own marriage there. So, we do get a little awestruck by it because it is a monument of that kind.

INSKEEP: So, have the attacks on that hotel, another major hotel complex and many other targets affected Mumbai in a way that previous terrorist attacks have not?

Ms. DE: Well, it's really more than that because it's not just because they struck at these hotels, it's why they struck at the hotels, and why they targeted not just Indians who were there, but also hand-picked foreigners. There seems to be a far bigger design in doing that, because only the very wealthy and tourists come and live in these hotels. So, it was clearly to send out a very strong message to the outside world - to the western world. It's going to hit our economy, it's going to hit our tourism, and it's going to hit the perception of the city of Mumbai itself. But the city of Mumbai is much bigger than any terrorist attack.

INSKEEP: You described the city as a city in a coma. Our own correspondent yesterday was surprised by how quiet the streets were, at least in the area around the attacks. Are things still very quiet and coma-like in Mumbai today?

Ms. DE: Unfortunately, not in the sense - I say that with deliberation because it was back to work this morning. And the streets were completely abuzz as you wouldn't have imagined, that within this two-kilometer radius, there are still very determined rescue operations on. But there were rumors in the city that there had been another terrorist attack at the main railway station, the CSD, also known as Victoria terminus. That caused a lot of people in the commercial district to bring their shutters down and go home. And there were people panicking and running all over the streets, and it's become much, much quieter since the city came to life at around 7 this morning.

INSKEEP: And Indian police, by the way, are denying that there were - were incidents around the railway station. But of course, you're talking about the power of a rumor, and how that affected things. What...

Ms. DE: It's all true - television channels which triggered off these panic attacks by irresponsibly talking about hearing gunshots, and TV coverage of this kind. It inevitably will lead to the kind of reaction that we have just seen.

INSKEEP: Shobhaa De is a columnist and writer in Mumbai. Thank you very much.

Ms. DE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: It's Morning Edition from NPR News.

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