RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Mayor Newsom has nothing on a neighbor across the bay. Berkley-based novelist Vikram Chandra came out with a much talked about novel two years ago that ran to 900 pages. The epic "Sacred Games" is set in his home city of Mumbai, and one of the novel's plotlines will now sound painfully familiar. Terrorists seek to undermine relations between India and Pakistan. Villains live off the coast of Mumbai on boats. I interviewed Vikram Chandra back then, and we called him in Mumbai, where he is now, to talk more about that city. Welcome to the program.
Mr. VIKRAM CHANDRA (Author, "Sacred Games"): Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Your parents and family are there in Mumbai. Where were you when it became clear that these hotels and a train station and other places around Mumbai were being attacked?
Mr. CHANDRA: Well, Bombay's kind of shaped like a kidney-shaped peninsula, kidney bean-shaped peninsula. And the hotels were at the very southern tip of the city, and we live about halfway up the coast. If the roads are absolutely clear, it's just about 20 minutes away. And then, of course, like everyone else in the city, we watched on television without a break, I think it felt like, for three days.
MONTAGNE: As I mentioned just now, one of the plotlines in your book "Sacred Games" - it's basically a murder mystery. But this one plotline involved terrorists and had some eerie similarities to what happened. You must have thought of that too.
Mr. CHANDRA: Right, yeah. Even before what's happened over the last few days, I've had this eerie feeling of deja vu. One of the elements in the book is a right-wing swami, or holy man, who is trying to escalate tensions between India and Pakistan by engineering a huge terrorist attack in Bombay. And for the last few months, one of the policemen killed in action two days ago has been investigating Hindu right wingers who allegedly were responsible for at least one blast in a place called Malegaon.
And so it seemed that the fiction and real life were anticipating each other. And it's been really interesting walking around the neighborhood and talking to people. The line that I keep hearing is it's surreal, it's just like a movie. It's too filmy to be true. One of the commandos who was involved in the operations was interviewed. He said it was just like the climax in "Bichoo." Bichoo means scorpion, and that's the name of a film from the late '90s which had a terrorist attack in the city with similar scenes of hospitals and people running about and innocent people being threatened.
MONTAGNE: Although, it must be said when you mention Hindu extremists, of course, we know this appears to be the work of Islamic extremists. But...
Mr. CHANDRA: Right.
MONTAGNE: Extremists in the general sense are looking to make a big splash in the media.
Mr. CHANDRA: Right, absolutely. And I think everyone understands the power of images. And, as always, the extremists on both sides need atrocities. They need each other in a sense to justify their own existence. And what they want above all is escalation. And so this is an attempt, I think, to escalate a war that's been going on in the subcontinent since the partition of then India into India and Pakistan in 1947.
MONTAGNE: What do you think attracted these terrorists to attack Bombay, or Mumbai, in particular?
Mr. CHANDRA: Well, there's a couple of reasons. One, of course, is that it's the commercial capital of the country. But it's also, I think, the most mythologized city in India. And so, striking at it, in a sense, is striking at the way that Bombay, Mumbai, and India wants to imagine itself. And I think it was interesting, the kind of script that was written this time for these attacks.
In 2006 there was a series of bomb blasts on the trains, the public trains here, which killed 209 people. So it's not the first large attack. But the trains were the realm of the middle and lower classes. And the explosion happened, but it didn't provide the kind of drama, the kind of narrative that this long siege did. I think there's, both in the planning and in the reaction, there's been an understanding of the difference of this attack and the kind of people that it's affected.
MONTAGNE: Vikram Chandra, thank you for talking with us.
Mr. CHANDRA: Thank you for having me.
MONTAGNE: Vikram Chandra is the author of the novel "Sacred Games." And he was speaking to us from Mumbai. This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep.