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Life goes on, but Mumbai's gut is uneasy

Life goes on, but Mumbai's gut is uneasy

Author: Mansi Choksi
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 28, 2008

Introduction: As Terror Strikes Rock City after City, People In The Financial Capital Get Edgy And Vigilant

Hyderabad. Jaipur. Bangalore. Ahmedabad. Delhi. Mumbai, which has probably been hit harder by terror than any other Indian city, has this time around, watched in silence as bomb blasts killed and maimed ordinary people in other metros. Though the city continues to go to work, college and school, it continues to shop and go to the cinema, the city's gut is uneasy.

Whether it is the railway commuters who stare accusingly at those who put their backpacks on the luggage rack, the group of card players who swiftly check under the seats before settling down, mistrustful fathers turning up 10 minutes in advance to peep under the multiplex seats, schools and offices contemplating a ban on tiffin deliveries, taxi drivers carrying out their own little investigations into packages left behind when a passenger hops off to make a purchase, or offices switching from WiFi to the slow but safe dial-up, anxiety is palpable almost everywhere.

"I have lost more than 10 umbrellas in the last couple of years. But as I was about to get off from a crowded train last week, I was pulled back by others who gave me a mouthful for leaving behind my umbrella,'' recounts a media professional. Another commuter said a man who left behind an apple on the luggage rack was roundly berated. For an apple? "Yes, how do we know what was inside?'' said the commuter who lives in Vashi and travels to CST.

Children are worried about parents and viceversa. Thirteen-year-old Rishi Desai does not like his family going
to the movies anymore. "He doesn't feel comfortable with us going to a movie or any other crowded place because he is so scared after these bombings,'' says his mother, Rashmi. "If we go, he keeps calling every few minutes to ensure we're safe. He has even tried to dissuade us by saying that the movie has got bad reviews and isn't worth watching.''

Businessman Anish Shah says the Sunday outing was an eagerly-awaited family tradition, but that has changed. "We'd rather do our shopping on a weekday when the malls are less crowded,'' he says. Shah also checks to see that there are no unclaimed objects in the rows in front and behind them when they go to a theatre.

Sanya Shahani, who lives on Pedder Road and studies at a design college in Bandra, used to be a regular train commuter. But after the Delhi blasts, her mother has raised her allowance so that she can take a cab to college. "Mom is really jittery about me travelling by train because of 7/11. But it takes too long to go by cab and is way more expensive, so on days when I'm in a hurry, I take the train anyway. But I don't tell her until I'm home, otherwise she will keep fretting,'' she says.

On Thursday, Dahisar resident Neela Shevade went to Bhendi Bazaar to buy sarees from a wholesaler. She noticed that many shops were shuttered because of a subconscious fear in this predominately Muslim pocket that it could be the focal point of a terror strike. "The shopkeeper told me that most of them were worried that there would be a revenge attack,'' she says.

Some schools now have policemen patrolling the campuses. Other schools have CCTVs. Lunch deliveries have been discontinued. The railways, one of the most vulnerable targets, tackles an alarming number of hoax calls every day. After years of being polite, railway announcements have become sharper and more urgent, warning people to be vigilant, even using the word 'explosives'.

More than anything, Mumbaikars are fed up of having to stand tall after being battered.

"We're always hailed as the resilient city that comes out strong after an attack,'' says Anish Shah. "We talk of 99% attendance at work after the blasts and trains going full a day after 7/11, but the fact is that it's a necessity. If we don't go to work, our pay will be cut and if we don't take the train, we have to shell out more money. The fear is still there.'' He adds that after bombs were planted at Ahmedabad's hospitals and even in children's parks, it is clear that the terrorists will stop at nothing.

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