Monday, December 01, 2008

Personal reflections on the attacks in Mumbai

I wanted to share just a brief message about the seige of the past week in Mumbai, India.

On Wednesday night, I sent a message to our friends, partners, and even the Taj Hotel staff who treated us so well. I said, “We have been seeing the news of the terrible events overnight in South Mumbai. Everyone here is sending you and all our friends there our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. Because Jenny and I were on that very spot at the Taj Palace just a few weeks ago, it makes the tragedy even more personal.”

I received responses like this:

“Thank you very much for your heart-felt message. There is a unique thing about the people of Mumbai - their spirit. They bounce back to normalcy very fast.”

“Its such a tragedy and such shock. We thank you for your prayers. We are praying too for the affected people and their families.”

“These are difficult times.... but Mumbai has a resilient spirit. All your good wishes will help keep that high. Thanks to you and all your friends.”

So it was in this time of soul-searching and reflection that I read these words of Suketu Mehta, a professor of journalism at New York University and the author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.

In reaction to the seige, he wrote of his hometown –

“Mumbai is a ‘soft target,’ the terrorism analysts say. Anybody can walk into the hotels, the hospitals, the train stations, and start spraying with a machine gun. Where are the metal detectors, the random bag checks? In Mumbai, it’s impossible to control the crowd. In other cities, if there’s an explosion, people run away from it. In Mumbai, people run toward it — to help. Greater Mumbai takes in a million new residents a year. This is the problem, say the nativists. The city is just too hospitable. You let them in, and they break your heart.

“But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.

“If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?

“So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be just economic.”

I’m sure that is the spirit that has attracted so many to the city. And why I won’t stop exploring the world and its people. I already have commitments for travel to Asia in the spring, an interesting speaking opportunity in South Africa late summer, and an innovation conference in Europe next fall.

On the weekend as we were giving thanks, I know I felt even more thankful.

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