Pomp and sorrow

A grandfather visited the room where his grandson was orphaned. A young man returned to the hotel where he narrowly escaped death. Mumbai residents went in droves to donate blood at a train station overrun in the 60-hour siege of India’s financial capital.

A policeman and his dogs pay tribute to the victims of last year's terror attack in front of a memorial at the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station

MUMBAI, India — A grandfather visited the room where his grandson was orphaned. A young man returned to the hotel where he narrowly escaped death. Mumbai residents went in droves to donate blood at a train station overrun in the 60-hour siege of India’s financial capital.

One year after the attacks that killed 166 people, thousands gathered in the streets, many holding candles, and black-clad commandoes rappelled down a building in a spectacle meant to reassure the city that it is well-defended.

But beneath the pomp and sorrow, little has changed.

Luck, better intelligence operations and, to some extent, international diplomacy have kept Mumbai safe this last year, rather than any real improvement in the city’s security forces, experts say.

Today, Mumbai remains nearly as vulnerable as it was last Nov. 26, when 10 young men armed with assault rifles and almonds for energy began a three-day assault on two luxury hotels, a Jewish centre and a busy train station.

The attacks inspired books, Bollywood movies, taxi tours, and a gory video game, but little of the kind of searching structural and political change that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.

Politicians who were pushed out of office in disgrace after the attacks have been reinstated.

Voter turnout in Mumbai actually fell this year, and the new, independent candidates — a doctor and a banker among them — who entered politics promising change were largely ignored by the electorate.

The police have spent $27.7 million on equipment and manpower, restructured their response strategy and brought in experts from the U.S., Russia and Israel for training.

But analysts and police say the threat against India from groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for last year’s attack, remains high, and activists say Mumbai’s police department is still too muddied by politics to function effectively.

This week’s vigils were shot through with calls for reform.

“The tragedy took place precisely because the police miserably failed in its duties,” said Shukla Sen, a member of the Citizens’ Initiative for Peace, who lit a candle Wednesday night outside the Taj Mahal hotel, where 31 were killed in a 60-hour siege.

“The functioning of the police must improve.”

On Thursday, crowds pooled nearby at the Gateway of India, a popular tourist attraction on the waterfront, pledging unity and vigilance and pointing up at the boards that still cover some of the windows of the iconic hotel.

Some called for death by public hanging for Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman who is standing trial in Mumbai.

Indian authorities say they have blocked multiple Islamist terror plots in the last year, in part due to improvements in intelligence-gathering and co-ordination instated by Home Affairs Minister P. Chidambaram, who was appointed in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.

Diplomats say India, which has a reputation for taking but not giving good intelligence information, has started to share more.

F.B.I. officers testified at Kasab’s trial. New York’s police department has made frequent trips to the city, and members of the Los Angeles police force are scheduled to come next week.

In addition, Washington has been pressing Islamabad to turn away from its traditional enemy India and focus more on its fight against the Taliban and other extremists along the Afghan-Pakistani border. On Wednesday, Pakistan charged seven men implicated in the Mumbai attacks, its first indictments in a long-delayed trial that India and the U.S. see as a test of Islamabad’s willingness to prosecute those responsible. No charges have been brought against top Lashkar leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, much to India’s ire.

In a show of solidarity Thursday, nearly 3,700 people came to donate blood at Chhatrapati Shivaji train terminal, where 58 died and 104 were injured.

“I can’t fight terrorists, but I can do this,” said student Kaustubh Panat, 21, as he lay with a needle in his arm. “It’s my honour.”

Others spent the day struggling with private grief.

“This is the place of my children. I feel like I am completing the circle,” said Shimon Rosenberg, 60, as he sat in the room in a Jewish centre where his daughter, Rivkah Holtzberg, and her husband, Gavriel were killed. They were among six who died at the Chabad House.

He is now taking care of their child, Moshe.

“He often says, ’Where is my father? Where is my mother?”’ Rosenberg said. “I tell him your father and mother are with God. He says, ’I want to go, too.”’

Bisham Mansukhani, 32, watched four people die at the Taj a year ago, before walking out of the hotel through broken glass, spent bullets and blood stains.

Five minutes before the attackers entered the hotel, he turned left to go to the bar, rather than right, into the lobby, where most of the people who died at the Taj were killed.

“I had a long day. I wanted to have a drink. That’s what saved me,” he said.

He spent months wracked with survivor’s guilt, feeling nothing, and is still searching for a way to honour his brush with death — perhaps by becoming a psychologist.

“My friends want to walk away from it. I want to stay with it,” he said. “Those 12 hours were the most terrifying and most remarkable in my life. That was real. This isn’t.”

———

On the Net:

Chabad House: www.chabad.org/mumbai

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