Mumbai Terrorist Attacks Echo An Indian Novel

Indian author Vikram Chandra. Credit: Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images

Indian author Vikram Chandra. Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images

2007 Interview With Chandra

Last week's deadly terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, caught the world by surprise. But some details — villains living on boats, and heightened tension between India and Pakistan — might seem familiar to the readers of the 2007 novel Sacred Games.

Renee Montagne spoke with author Vikram Chandra about the mood in Mumbai after the attacks in which more than 170 people died and hundreds were wounded.

"I think people are sad and angry" Chandra said. "I think there's a deep sense of disgust with our political establishment."

During the three-day siege, Indian television carried live, 24-hour coverage of the events — and Chandra said that like many others in India, he couldn't tear himself away.

"Everyone in the country had this strange sense of it being too large, too dramatic, too much like a film," Chandra said.

That same sentiment also exists in Sacred Games. Chandra says that as the novel's central character unravels a massive conspiracy, he is told that "it's too 'filmy' to be true. If it happens in a movie, it can't happen in real life."

The 900-page epic is essentially a murder mystery — with a side plot about terrorists targeting Mumbai. And Chandra says that even before the attacks, he had "this eerie feeling of deja vu."

One of the characters in Sacred Games is a right-wing Hindu holy man who engineers a terrorist strike in Mumbai to try to escalate tensions between India and Pakistan.

In real life, Chandra says, one of the policemen killed in action during the attacks had spent the past few months "investigating Hindu right-wingers who allegedly were responsible for at least one blast" in India recently.

And when the bombings and attacks began, "it seemed as if fiction and real life were anticipating each other," he says.

Chandra's novel isn't the only work of fiction that the attacks have brought to mind. He said he watched a TV interview in which an Indian commando, asked about the operation to clear the last militants from the Taj Mahal hotel, made another fictional reference.

"He said it was just like the climax in Bichoo," Chandra says. "Bichoo," the Hindi word for scorpion, is also the "name of a film from the late '90s, which had a terrorist attack in the city."

Asked why the terrorists might have targeted Mumbai, Chandra cited the city's role as India's financial capital. "It's also the most mythologized city in India," he notes.

"Striking at this, in a sense, is striking at the imagination itself, at the way that Bombay — Mumbai — and India wants to imagine itself," Chandra says.

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