Natasha Fatah


An outpouring of personal anguish by a young Canadian journalist with historic ties with Mumbai.


[A photograph showing Pigeons fly away as Mumbai’s celebrated Taj Mahal hotel burns on Nov. 27, 2008; Gautam Singh/Associated Press) ]


A particularly sinister type of evil crept into Mumbai this week.

The type that stalks innocent people as they board commuter trains at a busy downtown station. The type that opens fire on families eating quietly at a cafe. The type that takes dozens of visitors and newcomers hostage while they are still coming to terms with a foreign land.


It was with deep sorrow that I watched the news as the city of Mumbai burned. As those groups of highly organized, hate-filled young men stormed and destroyed some of the most glorious spots of that most beautiful city, a sense of hopelessness washed over those of us who love Mumbai.


An attack on Mumbai is an attack on the very ideals of beauty, joy and harmony. It isn’t just any other city, it is the cultural capital of South Asia and it has spread more happiness and artistry to the world than any other in the region.


Where good guys win


One of Mumbai’s greatest contributions to the world, of course, has been Bollywood, the world’s largest film and television industry.

Each year thousands of over-the-top movies and soap operas are pumped out of that frantic place, enriching lives in ways that are not always readily apparent.


Through the beauty of Urdu poetry, the gaggles of gorgeous dancing girls and the love triangles that always end with the good guy winning out, Mumbai has given millions in the developing world the idea of hope.


While we in the West may take that for granted, the notions of possibility and love have been unattainable concepts for many in the developing world. Mumbai, its cultural capital, has allowed them to believe.


What’s more, it is not through state legislation or legal judgments that India celebrates its diversity. It is through Mumbai’s movies that Indians and the rest of the world are reminded of just how tolerant a place India is.


In a country where Hindus are the overwhelming majority, Muslims actors dominate the leading roles alongside their stunning Hindu starlets; the romantic ballads in the film scores are written in Urdu, not Hindi; and in just about every movie the idea of religious diversity and acceptance is an underlying theme.


City of harmony


Mumbai has always been a city of harmony. It is also a city that has been much sought after by outsiders who have tried to reshape it. The Arabs, the Portuguese and the British have all tried to conquer Mumbai. But a conquest was not necessary.


Mumbai, the Indian city of brotherly love has accepted them all and many millions more at the same time. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and Jews all call this place home.


This attack on Mumbai is much more than a symbolic or political atrocity. For me, it is also very personal even though I have never actually visited the city itself.


But Mumbai is where I come from. It is where my father’s family has their roots and those roots run deep. My great-grandfather was the French consul in the city during the Second World War.


When he married my great-grandmother, a French woman, they could have chosen to live in Europe. But London or Paris could not compete with Mumbai’s beauty and culture.


Religion as a source of friendship


My grandfather was an artist, a poet and a musician and Mumbai has always been a city for artists.


I’ve been brought up with stories of my grandfather enjoying a cup of tea at a popular Mumbai restaurant, maybe a restaurant like the Leopold Cafe, which was attacked. In his day, children would approach and ask him to sketch their portraits.


He would go for long walks on the promenade singing a song from the latest film. He mixed and mingled with well-known film directors, movie producers and stars in the early days of the Mumbai film industry.


My aunts and uncles fondly remember growing up in Mumbai in pre-partition days when religion was a source of friendship, not division. During the 1920s and 30s every Mumbai resident celebrated each religious holiday.


Hindus marked the Muslim holiday of Eid as if it were their own religious celebration. Muslims brought in their new year with Diwali and threw about spring colors with their neighbors during Holi.


Of course, once religion was used as a means of casting Indian against Indian, Mumbai became unstable. In 1947, India gained independence from the British and was split in two. That was when my family left for Pakistan.


But even to this day, even though my father was born in Pakistan, in his heart his hometown is Mumbai.


So while, looking on, we may have felt hopeless watching the events unfold at the Taj Mahal hotel or the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station, we must not lose faith in Mumbai.


It has given so much hope and faith to so many others over the years.


[Natasha Fatah is a Toronto-based  journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and producer of its quality “As it Happens” program. The article was originally circulated by her father Tarek Fatah but sent to INSAF Bulletin by her after contact.]


(CBC-Canadian Broadcasting Corporation-News, Nov 28, 2008)

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