March 29, 2020
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Suffering Separately

Shouldn't there be a thread that binds the "disaster wards" at JJ Hospital and the candlelight marchers who want to Act? Why are some dead policemen glorified and others virtually ignored? Visiting Mumbai after 26/11, Senior Editor Anjali Puri finds

Suffering Separately
Apoorva Guptay
Suffering Separately

Two contrasting images of Mumbai earlier this week strongly evoked for me a city stratified and compartmentalised in its grief, despite the terrible assault on its people, its buildings, its very soul. One  was of a candlelight march on Marine Drive last Sunday, the day after the siege of the Taj had ended. The candles flickered in the balmy evening breeze, placards bobbed up and down among them, some of the slogans on them reflecting all the rage that has been spilling out of TV screens these past few days. While the purveyors of roasted channa-seeng did great business, and candle-less families sat on parapets and lifted their faces to the breeze, quietly savouring their city’s return to freedom and mobility, the internet-enabled and the SMS-connected talked about how "we can’t just sit and watch", how we must "act", and how if enough citizens come together they can "start something". There were not all young and idealistic, by the way, some were middle-aged and very angry. Like Mukul, who wouldn’t give his surname. "These 500 people we have elected need to be taken out," he said, waving his "No Security, No Taxes" placard. (Yes, he did use that Bush-esque phrase "taken out") "We need people who can change things." When another journalist and I prodded him to spell out his vision for change, he said: "I am a businessman. I know how to do my job, let them do theirs. I can’t lift a gun, I can’t terrorise people."    

The other image, and this will take longer to describe, was of "disaster wards" at JJ Hospital, where bed after bed contains patients with bullet, pellet and shrapnel injuries. JJ is the designated "poor hospital" for this tragedy, just as Bombay Hospital is the "rich hospital". Not just affluent citizens, even the cream of the security services were moved out of JJ. Still, as of November 29, it was tending to 112 injured, more than half of the 213 injured, according to official estimates. At Bombay Hospital, I met a National Security Guard commando recuperating from leg injuries in a comfortable single room with a panoramic view of Mumbai. At JJ I met a mini-India, a reflection of the city’s diversity, and of the crowds that pass through its railway hub, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, to and from other places. There was a Hina Sheikh, hurt when a taxi blew up in Mazgaon, a Bijaya Devi Kushwaha who was going home to Gorakhpur, life insurance agent Sarika Upadhayaya, who was sitting in Leopold Café, Abdul Rashid, an autorickshaw driver from Nizamabad, whose 14-year-old daughter died at CST, a man who could not speak to me because he only speaks Bengali, Bharat Bhosale, a cop at CST, Nadar who works in a shop in Dharavi, but is originally from Tamil Nadu, Sanjay Gomare, a constable on duty at the Taj, Ramachandra Nair, who works in the diamond trade and was at CST…  

This is the sombre phase two of the tragedy. The blood and gore have been dealt with, the surgeries have been carried out; the patients lie in not unclean wards, attended to by not unkind nurses. Depending on how badly they were hurt, and how their relatives and friends have fared, they are either volubly grateful to have survived or dazed and incapable of conversation.  

Two faces are hard to forget. One is of a sad-eyed young woman sitting up in bed in the middle of the female surgical ward, pasted on the wall behind her a printed notice that says: " Sunita Yadav 34775/ 20/F/ bullet injury b/l breast". She sits quietly, head bowed and tearless, as her father, a farmer from Ghazipur district in Uttar Pradesh, with three bighas of land, narrates her nightmare, in the articulate way that Purvanchalis can speak on any subject under the sun. Sunita, her brother, Santosh, her husband Upinder, and their four-month old baby, Sheetal, had arrived early at the CST terminus from Vapi, in Gujarat. Upinder, a graduate, worked there as a computer clerk. They came to CST catch the Mahanagari Express to Varanasi, which is near Ghazipur, and were sitting in a rest area when the bullets struck. Today, Upinder is dead, Sheetal has been operated upon, her mother has not seen her for two days, Santosh is in a male surgical ward. Their harried father, who rushed to a city he does not know after hearing the news, tries his best to be there for all of them. Any plans yet for what will happen once they are recovered, I ask. How much education has Sunita had? For a minute the father is lost for words, perhaps he can’t quite remember. That’s when the young woman makes her only contribution to the conversation. "Maine inter kiya hai," she says, and there is something in her voice. Pride is too strong a word; it is really just a quiet assertion of who she is.  

The other face that is hard to forget is that of Afroz Ansari. The printed notice above his head tells me he is 13, that he has a bullet injury on his back. He has a pair of spectacles by his side, and a tinny-looking box which turns out to be what kids call a "brick game". The bricks try to form a wall, the player’s challenge is to press buttons fast enough to prevent that from happening. Afroz tells me his parents are in a different hospital and that his dad is a taxi driver. A few yards away, in another bed, Sanjay Katar, a 25-year-old BPO employee, informs me, in a very low voice, that Afroz’s parents are dead, though he doesn’t know it yet (a fact confirmed by the doctor later), that he is alone a lot, that a cousin or an uncle come sometimes. While Afroz goes off for an eye-check up, I go out into the corridors outside the ward, where clumps of relatives are sitting and waiting quietly (they are not being allowed to go in, because a senior cop’s visit is imminent; it has been imminent for the couple of hours that I have been hanging around the hospital, and everyone has been in a state of breathless readiness for it). Anybody here for Afroz? No, says someone in the crowd, somebody else, his brother, we think is hurt too, they go to him as well. But he has a diary with him with phone numbers that can be called if there is a problem.  

This is a city in which teachers and parents have been talking, in hushed tones, in the aftermath of the tragedy, about articulating a fitting psychological response to the trauma that its children have suffered. How they have seen smoke rising from their balconies, how they have heard the sounds of guns and explosions, how they have seen glimpses of the city’s 60-hour ordeal on TV; and how some of them even know kids at school whose father or mother, or both, perished at one of the two hotels under siege. And yet, six days after his ordeal began, Afroz lies in a lonely bed, trying to stop bricks from making a wall.  

Comparisons between 9/11 and 26/11 are rife in Mumbai. The death toll may have been just a fraction of the numbers that died in America, but for us too, this has been an apocalyptic moment, I am told repeatedly. We have suffered riots, blasts and floods, but this is different. The city has been raped this time. Our citadels have been breached, our iconic buildings violated, our senses assaulted, there is a profound sense of disorientation and disorder even if we look normal. So what did Americans do when they experienced all of the above? They lit candles for sure, but they also rushed out to volunteer in every way they could. They cleared rubble, they cooked for rescue workers, they translated documents for victims’ families who did not know English, they performed street plays to lift spirits, they flooded hospitals with offers to help. Many said later that it was an outlet for their rage, and helped them overcome their sense of powerlessness and victimisation. Academic papers have been written on the remarkable phenomenon of post 9/11 volunteerism. One that I read quoted a woman, a computer programmer, who said her need to help was overpowering: "It was like you were so thirsty and you needed to find something to drink." 

In Mumbai, I heard about blood donations. I did read a report, and see a picture, about a counsellor visiting some of the JJ wards to talk to patients. I saw phone numbers in newspapers of professionals who said they could be contacted for free psychiatric care. Some patients at JJ also told me that a few organisations had left their visiting cards, and said, "Call us if you need anything". On the other hand, I also read a telling newspaper report, on December 2, that not many had come forward to help victims in the state and civic-run hospitals. It quoted doctors as saying patients could use nutritious food like fruits, which were beyond hospital budgets; that sick children, especially, needed dietary supplements. The report quoted the head matron of JJ hospital as saying: "Good Samaritans should stop lighting candles and think about more meaningful ways to help those who need it badly." On the evening of December 4, when I called Dr Jadhav, Medical Superintendent of JJ Hospital, to ask about the volunteer response so far with respect to 26/11 patients in his hospital, he said: "It is not necessary, at present we have ample staff." What about the non-medical aspects, I asked. Toys and games? Reading to sick children? Volunteer support for traumatised relatives who have come from villages to tend their sick, some of whom, like Sunita’s family, are scattered in different wards? "Let them contact personally if they are interested," he said, after a pause.  

In America, there is a professional discipline called volunteer management -- i.e. how to call for and make best use of the services of volunteers after a disaster. Here, as is pretty clear from the superintendent’s response, it doesn’t exist. But why didn’t that desperate desire of citizens to Act, that need to change the way things are done in this country articulated by so many, so often, in their response to the Mumbai attacks, not immediately translate itself into floods of offers to help? Why weren’t candlelight marchers landing up with home-cooked food for the relatives at JJ? Why wasn’t a passionate advocate of Change going with Afroz for his eye checkup because no relative could be found? Maybe it will all come together in the days and weeks to come, but just as that first response to an American tragedy says something about the American people, our selective response to this one says something about us. If I had met Mukul-with-no-surname on Marine Drive after my visit to JJ rather than before, I may have had a few more questions for him: Should we care about fulfilling Sunita’s abruptly shattered dreams of upward mobility? Should we worry about what happens to Afroz? Or we discharged all our dues by paying our taxes? 


To find mourners for the death of Inspector Shashank Shinde, you have to go to the Mumbai suburb of Wadala. Outside Dosti Estate, the neat, middleclass  housing estate where the Inspector lived, until he fell to terrorists’ bullets at CST Terminus on November 26, hangs a large picture of him, and in the living room of  his flat, is its replica. Six days after he died, there is a small group of people here consisting of family and close friends. No one is crying. Rather, they are, to start with, all pleasantly and politely conversational, covering the usual ground of condolence visits: what happened, how they came to know, when they saw him last. Except for Shashank’s father, former Assistant Sub Inspector of Police Chandrasen Shinde, who sits on the sofa silently, with a ravaged face, clasping and unclasping his hands.  

And then family friend Vijay Bhosale, a retired court officer, says what is clearly on everyone’s minds, because it changes the mood in the room. "Inhone itna kiya, aur inka nam he nahi," says Bhosale. (He did such a lot, and his contribution has not even been recognised.) "Barobar", mumbles Chandrasen. Other family members pick up the thread. "Teen logon ka photo hai, inka nahi." (There are pictures of only three people everywhere.) "Hamara bacha gaya," says Chandrasen, "desh ke liye gaya. Theek hai. Par uska naam kyon nahi hai?" ( My son went for the country, that is OK, but why is his name nowhere?)  

This father’s poignant question is a relevant one. Wall after wall in Mumbai is plastered with posters of Karkare, Kamte and Saluskar. Their larger than life faces follow you around, with politicians of every hue, citizens groups, religious organisations, neighbourhood mandals, vying with each other to show solidarity by saluting their "Shahadat". Occasionally, the trio becomes a quartet, including the National Security Guard’s Captain Sandeep Unnikrishan. Thanks to the distorting lens of the media, and perhaps the brash celebrity-obsessed culture of the city, Shinde, who bravely took on AK-47s with a service revolver and was shot in the stomach, is one of many low-profile policemen who seem to have faded from public memory less than a week after his death.  

The irony is that he not just died for his country, but is from a family that has devoted four generations to police work, starting with Shashank’s great-grandfather, a havaldar in Thane district during British times. You can see the family’s steady social mobility, over these four generations, in the neat, cheerful living room with its trendy orange central wall; and even more, in the demeanour and bearing of Shashank’s daughters, 18-year-old Aditi, and 14-year old Nivedita, neither of whom intends to be a fifth generation police professional. Aditi is a second-year engineering student. And Nivedita says:"Women in the police force are not treated well."

Like other families who have suffered in this tragedy, both articulate a strong sense of being let down. "Only three officers are being talked about when 14 died," says Aditi. Some politicians came, she says, when I ask her who visited, but is in no mood to even recall their names. "It really makes no difference. What are they going to do now? The whole system has failed." Is she proud of being her father’s daughter. "Yes, I am," says Aditi emphatically. "He has touched lives, he has helped people." "But his death could have been avoided," says Nivedita quickly. "How do you expect policemen to fight terrorists with service revolvers?" While Sunita Yadav might not fulfil her dreams,  it’s clear these confident, articulate middle class girls will, despite the devastating impact of November 26; they already have a headstart. But their anger won’t die easily.  

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